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U.S. Copter Crashes In Afghanistan

A U.S. helicopter crashed in Afghanistan on Thursday, killing one American Marine and injuring 14 others, the military said.

A U.S. military statement ruled out hostile fire in the crash in Khost province, near the border with Pakistan.

The injured troops were taken to Camp Salerno, an American base near Khost city, 90 miles south of the capital, Kabul, for treatment.

"The helicopter was destroyed in the crash, but did not burn," the statement said. "Hostile fire was not involved. The cause of the crash is under investigation."

Four had injuries serious enough to require further evacuation to the main U.S. base at Bagram, north of Kabul, the statement said.

It didn't give further details.

A local official said a technical fault downed the helicopter in Gurbuz, a district along the mountainous border. The official spoke on condition of anonymity.

More than 130 American soldiers have died since U.S. forces entered Afghanistan in 2001 as part of Operation Enduring Freedom to drive the Taliban from power and attack its al Qaeda allies.

Many of the soldiers have perished in accidents, including several deadly helicopter accidents. In the most recent, five soldiers died in a crash near Bagram in November.

This year, at least 23 Americans have also died in action, making 2004 the deadliest combat year yet. Two soldiers were killed along with their Afghan translator by a roadside bomb on Saturday.

Khost, a former al Qaeda stronghold in territory along the Pakistani border where a Taliban-led insurgency is strongest, has seen some of the heaviest fighting.

The American military sent helicopters and bombers to join an all-day battle near the border on Aug. 3 which left up to 70 militants and two Afghan soldiers dead.

The rebels, who attacked an Afghan border post, came from Pakistan and retreated there with many of their dead, Afghan officials said.

That battle — and Thursday's crash — have highlighted both the advantages and the risks of the 18,000-strong U.S.-led force's reliance on air power.

Marines deployed in southern Afghanistan earlier this year claimed to have killed more than 100 insurgents, often with the help of helicopters and jets.

U.S. commanders insist that insurgents are on the defensive but have been unable to halt their deadly attacks on Afghan and U.S. forces as well as civilians.

The military recently launched a new operation designed to prevent attacks ahead of Oct. 9 presidential elections. Twelve election workers have been killed in attacks so far.

The crash comes on the heels of Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld's surprise visit to the war-torn nation on Wednesday.

Rumsfeld renewed America's commitment to building democracy in Afghanistan and hailed a hearty pace of registration for the October presidential election.

"There's good progress being made," he said, "and the goal of course is for the Afghan security forces to be able to provide for the security, and each month, each quarter, solid progress is being made."

Joining President Hamid Karzai at a news conference not long after his arrival here, the U.S. defense secretary said, "Your leadership team is showing great courage in your efforts" to stabilize the country.

"This upcoming election is an important one," Rumsfeld said. "When we talked a few months ago, the hope was three, four — maybe five — million registered voters. I'm told by the Joint Election Commission today, they claim something like 9 million, of which a sizable portion is women."

"When one thinks about it and recognizes it, there has been a campaign of intimidation, attempts to dissuade people from registering," Rumsfeld said. He called the heavy voter registration "a very vivid demonstration of the Aghan people's determination to make democracy work. And to not mention this truly impressive accomplishment would be unfortunate," he added.

Karzai clearly is the American favorite, but Rumsfeld and other officials have avoided endorsing him, saying the U.S. government will work with whomever the Afghan voters choose.

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