Eleven U.S. soldiers killed in Afghanistan crash


  • World
  • Monday, 26 Oct 2009

KABUL (Reuters) - Eleven U.S. troops were killed in two helicopter crashes in Afghanistan on Monday as hundreds of Afghans rallied in Kabul in a second day of anti-U.S. protests.

The NATO-led force said at least seven U.S. soldiers died in a helicopter crash in western Afghanistan and four others in a separate mid-air helicopter collision in the south.

In Kabul, shouting "Down with America", Afghans clashed with police protesting against what participants said was the desecration of a copy of the Koran by foreign troops.

The events come in a politically charged period as Afghanistan braces for a Nov. 7 run-off vote in its presidential poll after the first round in August was marred by allegations of widespread fraud.

The vote is crucial to Western efforts to stabilise Afghanistan at a time when the insurgency is at its strongest since U.S.-led forces ousted the Taliban from power in 2001.

NATO said seven U.S. service members and three U.S. civilians were killed when a helicopter they were aboard crashed in western Afghanistan following an operation against insurgents in which a dozen Taliban fighters were killed.

In a separate incident four U.S. service members were killed and two injured when two helicopters operated by NATO-led troops collided in mid-air in southern Afghanistan.

Although NATO said neither crash was caused by hostile fire, the incidents highlighted the risks foreign troops in Afghanistan face, as U.S. President Barack Obama deliberates whether to send additional troops there.

PROTESTS

Underscoring many Afghans' unease with the presense of foreign troops, hundreds of people gathered in central Kabul on Monday shouting anti-American slogans and throwing stones.

For the second consecutive day, police fired into the air to break up the crowd as protesters prepared to set fire to a crudely made effigy of Obama outside the parliament building.

Protesters say NATO forces burned a copy of Islam's holiest book during a raid in eastern Afghanistan last week.

The NATO-led force in Afghanistan has denied any involvement and blamed the Taliban for spreading false rumours.

Police arrested up to 30 people, a Reuters witness said. At least one police officer was injured in the clashes, another witness said.

Hundreds of people also gathered in the western city of Herat on Monday in related anti-U.S. protests, a Reuters witness said.

Afghanistan has seen protests in the past over similar incidents, as well as over cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammad in a Danish newspaper in 2006.

Security has been tightened in Kabul ahead of the Nov. 7 vote, particularly after the Taliban vowed to disrupt the poll and urged Afghans to boycott it, as they had done before the Aug. 20 first round election.

The poll pits President Hamid Karzai against former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah, who has accused the incumbent of allowing widespread election fraud during the first round.

(Writing by Maria Golovnina; Editing by Jerry Norton)

(For more Reuters coverage of Afghanistan and Pakistan, see: http://www.reuters.com/news/globalcoverage/afghanistanpakistan)

(For a blog on Afghanistan, see:

http://blogs.reuters.com/afghanistan/)

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