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Associated Press

KABUL, Afghanistan - A NATO plane crash in southern Afghanistan killed four international troops on Saturday, the same day the Taliban announced its spring offensive.

The Afghan Defense Ministry said its security forces were prepared for the Taliban's new campaign, which was to start today. "The Afghan National Army is ready to neutralize the offensive," the ministry said.

The Taliban did not claim responsibility for the plane crash. NATO said initial reports indicated no enemy activity in the area where the plane went down. Coalition personnel secured the site and were investigating the cause of the crash.

The brief NATO statement did not identify the victims, or say exactly where the crash occurred in Afghanistan. However, Mohammad Jan Rasoulyar, deputy governor of the southern province of Zabul, said an aircraft belonging to foreign forces crashed Saturday afternoon in Shah Joy district.

April has been the worst month for combat deaths so far this year. According to an Associated Press tally, 261 people - including civilians, Afghan security forces and foreign troops - have been killed in violence around the nation. During that time 217 insurgents have died. Last year in April, 179 civilians, foreign troops and Afghan security forces were killed, and 268 insurgents died.


As of Saturday, 2,070 U.S. troops have died in the war in Afghanistan. Identifications as reported by the U.S. military and not previously published:

-Army Pfc. Barett L. Austin, 20, Easley, S.C.; died April 21 in Landstuhl, Germany, of injuries sustained in explosion April 17 in Wardak province.

-Army Capt. Aaron R. Blanchard, 32, Selah, Wash.; indirect fire Tuesday; Pul-E-Alam.

-Army 1st Lt. Robert J. Hess, 26, Fairfax, Va.; indirect fire Tuesday; Pul-E-Alam.