updated 4/9/2005 1:15:53 AM ET 2005-04-09T05:15:53

The remains of two more American soldiers were found in the wreckage of a helicopter that crashed in Afghanistan, raising the number killed to 18, the military said Saturday.

Even before the higher death toll, the incident was the deadliest for Americans here since the fall of the Taliban in 2001.

The CH-47 Chinook went down during a sandstorm on Wednesday near Ghazni, 80 miles south of the capital, Kabul. Thirteen U.S. service members and three civilian contractors were previously confirmed dead.

Two other sets of remains were found on Friday, said Lt. Cindy Moore, a U.S. spokesman. The remains were flown to Bagram, the American base north of Kabul. From there, they will be flown to the U.S. air base in Dover, Del., for identification, Moore said.

The names of the victims and the nationalities of the three contractors have not been released.

Moore said investigators from the U.S. Army’s Combat Readiness Center at Fort Rucker, Ala., were due to arrive in Afghanistan on Saturday.

The transport helicopter crashed as it returned to Bagram from a supply and transport mission in the insurgency-plagued south. The charred wreckage was found in an area of flat desert near a cluster of brick kilns.

Officials reported no sign of enemy fire and suggested bad visibility and strong winds may have caused a fatal pilot error or technical problem. A second Chinook made it safely back.

According to U.S. government statistics, 137 American soldiers have now died in and around Afghanistan since Operation Enduring Freedom, the U.S.-led war on terrorism, began after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in America.

Accidents have proven almost as deadly as attacks from Taliban-led insurgents, including a string of helicopter crashes and explosions caused by mines and munitions left over from the country’s long wars.

The previous worst incident in Afghanistan was an accidental explosion at an arms dump in Ghazni province in January 2004 that killed eight American soldiers.

About 17,000 U.S. soldiers remain in Afghanistan battling a stubborn Taliban-led insurgency and training a new Afghan army.

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