KABUL, Afghanistan — A U.S. military helicopter crashed during a firefight with insurgents Thursday in a remote area of southern Afghanistan, killing all seven Americans and four Afghans aboard in one of the deadliest air disasters of a war now in its second decade. The Taliban claimed they gunned down the Black Hawk.
American service personnel in Afghanistan are dying at a rate of about one per day this year despite a drawdown of troops. That death rate has risen recently with the summer fighting season in full gear and a rash of attacks by Afghan security forces on their foreign trainers and partners.
NATO forces said they could not confirm what caused Thursday's crash and stressed that it was still being investigated. The Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawk was operating in support of an ongoing assault on the ground but initial indications were that it was not shot down, U.S. officials said.
But Taliban spokesman Qari Yousef Ahmadi said insurgent fighters struck the helicopter in Kandahar province. The Kandahar provincial government backed the Taliban claim.
With Thursday's crash, at least 26 Americans have been killed this month and at least 219 so far this year.
The crash came less than a week after six American service members were gunned down, apparently by two members of the Afghan security forces they were training to take over the fight against the insurgency.
The attacks have stirred fresh doubts about the capability of Afghan security forces to secure the country after the majority of international combat troops are to have exited by the end of 2014.
As U.S. forces decrease, more of the war is likely to be fought in the shadows by elite forces. Three of the U.S. service personnel killed Thursday were special operations forces — two Navy SEALS and a Navy explosives expert, U.S. officials said on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to disclose the information.