KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) - Insurgents shot down a NATO helicopter and killed four American troops in southern Afghanistan on Wednesday, the military said, in the latest bloodshed ahead of a major operation in the militants' heartland. NATO said the four died "after their helicopter was brought down by hostile fire" in Helmand province, part of a volatile region where Taliban still hold sway despite a buildup of U.S. troops.
Lt. Col. Joseph T. Breasseale, U.S. military spokesman in Kabul, confirmed the four troops killed were Americans, but the military and NATO gave no other details. Taliban spokesman Qari Yousef Ahmadi said the insurgents shot off two rockets to down the helicopter.
Wednesday's casualties take American military deaths in Afghanistan has included the deadliest day for NATO forces in more than seven months, according to a count by The Associated Press. Ten NATO forces died on Monday, including seven Americans. The previous most deadly day was Oct. 26 last year, when 11 American troops were killed. The four deaths in Helmand province, and that of a British NATO service member in a homemade bomb attack earlier Wednesday, took the number of NATO troops killed this month to 29.
Helmand provincial spokesman Daoud Ahmadi said the helicopter was shot down about midday in Sangin district during an operation involving NATO and Afghan security forces. Attack helicopters and other aircraft have given NATO troops a big advantage over the insurgents, who are armed mostly with automatic rifles and rocket-propelled grenades. While shoulder-fired grenades can be used against aircraft - helicopters are especially vulnerable when taking off or landing - they are designed only for short-range use and aiming them accurately is difficult. NATO aircraft have only rarely been hit in Afghanistan Nevertheless, one of the heaviest single-day losses of life for allied forces in Afghanistan occurred on June 28, 2005, when 16 U.S. troops died aboard a Special Forces MH-47 Chinook helicopter that was shot down by insurgents. United States troops have been building up in southern Afghanistan Obama's surge strategy to try to bring an end to the nearly 9-year-old insurgency, and commanders have warned that more casualties can be expected. Last December, Obama ordered some 30,000 more U.S. troops to Afghanistan U.S. commanders hope the coming operation to secure Kandahar will turn the tide of the war in time for American troops to begin withdrawing on Obama's stated timetable starting in July 2011. Helmand province abuts Kandahar. As fighting escalates, the Afghan government is reaching out to the insurgents in hopes of ending the war.
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