KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (Reuters) - An Afghan military helicopter crashed, killing all 17 people on board on Thursday, officials said, in a blow for a fledgling air force whose resources have been stretched since the withdrawal of most international troops last year.
The Taliban, mounting a growing insurgency, said it shot down the helicopter in the southern province of Zabul, but a government official blamed a technical failure and said there had been no gunfire.
Twelve soldiers and five crew died, said Gul Islam Seyal, a government spokesman in Zabul, on the same day as two suicide attacks blamed on the militant group. Thousands have been killed and wounded since the start of the year.
“There were two helicopters ... One of them had a technical problem and contacted the other one and informed the pilot of an emergency landing. As soon as it landed, it caught fire,” Seyal said.
Taliban spokesman Qari Yousef Ahmadi posted a message on Twitter claiming responsibility for the crash. The militants often exaggerate battlefield gains.
Afghanistan’s military has about 150 aircraft and 390 pilots, just a fraction of the air power that NATO used to fly support, evacuation and supply sorties before last year’s drawdown.
The bulk of the Afghan fleet is made up of aging Mi-17 transport aircraft, but it was not immediately clear what type of helicopter was involved in the crash.
Earlier on Thursday, officials said, a truck bomb targeting an Afghan special forces base in the eastern province of Logar killed three soldiers and three civilians and wounded dozens.
“The bomb was huge and it was carried by a mini-truck,” said provincial governor Aleem Fedaee. “It inflicted a lot of damage to the civilians and broke windows even a kilometer away.”
In an email to journalists, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid claimed responsibility for the Logar attack.
Later on Thursday, five more Taliban attackers with suicide vests attacked two police posts in the southern city of Kandahar but were killed before getting inside, said deputy police chief Rahmatullah Atrafi.
Two members of the Afghan security force were killed in the Kandahar attack, he added.
Additional reporting by Hamid Shalizi; Writing by Kay Johnson; Editing by Clarence Fernandez and Andrew Heavens