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Military investigators are looking into a Sunday night helicopter crash in Afghanistan that left one U.S. pilot dead and a second injured, officials said Monday.

“A coalition AH-64 Apache attack helicopter crashed shortly after take off from Kandahar Airfield around 8:30 p.m. [Sunday],” a U.S. military news release stated. While no cause has been cited, military officials ruled out enemy fire as a factor in the crash.

The incident occurred after a rocket attack on Kandahar Airfield; helicopters were dispatched to respond to the attack, with one crashing shortly after takeoff.

“We deeply regret the death of our superb pilot,” U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Benjamin C. Freakley, commander of Combined Joint Task Force-76, was quoted as saying in the release. “His sacrifice will not be forgotten. We are thankful for the rapid response of our joint team who rescued our injured pilot. His rescue was heroic and responsive. We are determined never to leave a fallen comrade.”

No injuries were reported in the rocket attack that caused the helicopters to launch, officials said. The status of the second Apache pilot was not clear Monday, though he had been evacuated to the military hospital on the Kandahar base.

According to a Canadian reporter embedded with troops on the base, the rocket attack was the second in two days on the base. The helicopters scrambled shortly after the nighttime attack.

A similar rocket attack on Friday struck a tent complex on the airfield, wounding 10 people, the Canadian reporter wrote. The base is home to around 10,000 coalition troops, with some 2,000 Canadians.

“We’re pretty aggressively working on these guys,” the CanWest news service quoted U.S. Army Col. Steven Williams as saying of the attackers, who have launched 23 projectiles at the base since February.

Friday’s attack was the first to cause casualties, officials confirmed. The number of indirect fire attacks on the base has doubled in the past year, officials said.

The rockets were fired from about five miles away, Williams, of the Alaska National Guard, was quoted as saying.

Fighting in southern Afghanistan has intensified in recent months, with some 10,000 coalition troops involved in an offensive against suspected Taliban fighters. The offensive, called Operation Mountain Thrust, is designed to cut off militants in the south.

20 insurgents killed as clashes continueCoalition troops killed 20 insurgents after the militants attacked a patrol in Helmand province in Afghanistan over the weekend, military officials said Monday.

The attackers, using small-arms and mortar fire, wounded two coalition troops, who were taken to a military medical facility and listed in stable condition on Monday.

The attack occurred in the Sangin District of Helmand province. British troops have recently taken responsibility for the area, but the U.S. military statement Monday did not specify which country the coalition troops were from.

“Afghan and coalition forces continue their successful attacks on extremists in selected areas of southern Afghanistan to deny the enemy sanctuary,” U.S. Army Lt. Col. Paul Fitzpatrick was quoted as saying.

“The focus of Operation Mountain Thrust is to enable the Afghan national security forces to provide security and create a stable environment for provincial and district-level governments to be responsive and representative of the people.”


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