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Seven American troops killed in Afghan chopper crash

Updated at 3:08 p.m. ET : Seven American troops were killed Thursday when the Black Hawk helicopter they were traveling in crashed in southern Afghanistan, possibly shot down by enemy forces, U.S. officials told NBC News.

Three of the Americans were U.S. Navy sailors – two were Navy SEALS and one was an explosive ordnance disposal sailor.

Three Afghan soldiers and an Afghan interpreter were also killed, bringing the total number of dead to 11, officials said.

According to U.S. officials, the helicopter had just landed in a "hot zone" to insert a small number of combat forces to support an ongoing operation. It was apparently shot down shortly after it took off to depart the area.

The helicopter was totally destroyed on impact.

U.S. officials at the Pentagon and in Kabul tell NBC News that American forces engaged in a shootout with enemy forces on the ground who were trying to reach the crash site.  

The crash marked another deadly day for the U.S. in Afghanistan, 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 as international combat troops prepare to exit the country by the end of 2014.

The recent spike in American deaths and attacks by Afghan allies have stirred fresh doubts about the prospects for the U.S. plan to leave a capable Afghan government in place when most troops depart after more than a decade of war.

Spokesman Brig. Gen Gunter Katz said the NATO coalition is investigating the cause of Thursday's crash in Shah Wali Kot, Kandahar.

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The Taliban claimed responsibility for shooting down the helicopter, saying they were able to bring down the aircraft during a raid by the "invaders."

While the Taliban often exaggerate their victories and are quick to claim any incident involving the death of foreign troops, it could be significant that they took responsibility for Thursday's crash hours before NATO announced it.

"Nobody survived this," Taliban spokesman Qari Yousef Ahmadi told The Associated Press by telephone.

Insurgent hotbed
The area where the helicopter went down is an insurgent hotbed and supply route, lying north of Kandahar city near Zabul and Uruzgan provinces. The insurgents regularly attack police checkpoints around the rural villages of the district and plant bombs in the road to catch passing government vehicles.

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Thursday's crash is the deadliest since a Turkish helicopter crashed into a house near the Afghan capital, Kabul, on March 16, killing 12 Turkish soldiers on board and four Afghan civilians on the ground, officials said.

The Taliban shot down a CH-47 Chinook transport helicopter in August 2011, killing all 38 people on board, including 25 U.S. special operations service members.

The Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawk is a medium-lift helicopter that has served as the U.S. Army's workhorse since the 1980s.


The U.S.-led NATO force in Afghanistan has relied heavily on utility helicopters such as the Black Hawk to ferry troops, dignitaries and supplies around the mountainous terrain, thus avoiding the threat of ambushes and roadside bombs.

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Afghanistan's Interior Ministry said this week that the Taliban had not let up on attacks during Ramadan and security forces had stepped up security ahead of the Eid al-Fitr festival, which ends Islam's holiest month. 

A half-yearly report by the United Nations last week said 1,145 civilians have been killed between Jan. 1 and June 30 this year as well as 1,954 wounded, representing a 15 percent decline on last year due to a severe winter that hampered fighting.

Homemade bombs and suicide attacks remain the biggest killers of Afghan civilians and Afghan and foreign troops. 

Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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