In Afghanistan, NATO helicopter crashes kill 14 Americans

The two helicopter crashes in Afghanistan, which officials do not think were from enemy fire, come as the US mulls its Afghan war strategy.

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Fourteen Americans were killed and more injured in two separate incidents of helicopter crashes Monday in Afghanistan, underscoring the risks of the increasingly controversial US-led war.

Neither incident involved hostile fire, according to statements from NATO's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF).

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The latest casualties come as Afghanistan prepares for a Nov. 7 runoff vote for the presidency, and as President Obama is believed to be near the conclusion of an intensive, month-long review of the US-led coalition's Afghanistan strategy.

CNN reported that the first incident occurred in western Afghanistan. "Seven U.S. service members and three U.S. civilians were killed," an ISAF statement said. "Those injured include 14 Afghan service members, 11 U.S. service members and one U.S. civilian."

The other incident occurred when two helicopters crashed into each other in mid-air over southern Afghanistan, killing four Americans, the New York Times reported. Both incidences are being investigated.

"These separate tragedies today underscore the risks our forces and our partners face every day," said Col. Wayne Shanks, a spokesman for the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force. "Each and every death is a tremendous loss for the family and friends of each service member and civilian. Our grief is compounded when we have such a significant loss on one day.
"I can never truly express in mere words our condolences for the families for their loss and sacrifice."

The Associated Press reported Sunday that the total number of US military personnel killed since the US invasion of Afghanistan eight years ago was at least 807, with 624 dying by hostile fire. Four CIA officers have also been killed.

Monday's accidents bring that number to 821.

Separate statistics compiled by icasualties.org show that 2009 has been the most deadly year so far for coalition forces overall, with a total of 435 coalition military fatalities. (The site lists 1,480 total coalition military fatalities since the invasion in 2001.)

The surge in casualties ups the pressure on Mr. Obama, who is still mulling his overall Afghanistan strategy and has not decided whether to move ahead on a request from the top commander in Afghanistan for 40,000 more troops, the Agence France-Presse reported.

Some of his closest aides, including chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, have said it would be irresponsible to take a decision before a scheduled run-off election between [Afghan President Hamid Karzai] and his former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah on November 7 which follows a first round tainted by fraud.

According to the Washington Post, the Pentagon ran secret war games this month to test what are believed to be the two main options under debate by Obama's national security staff since late September. In the first, the US would send 44,000 additional troops to Afghanistan, as requested by Gen. Stanley McChrystal, in a massive effort to stabilize the country and roll back the Taliban insurgency.

In the second, much more limited option, dubbed "counter-terrorism plus," only 10,000 to 15,000 more soldier and Marines would be sent, and would focus on al Qaeda, rather than the Taliban insurgents.

The Pentagon war game did not formally endorse either course; rather, it tried to gauge how Taliban fighters, the Afghan and Pakistani governments and NATO allies might react to either of the scenarios. Mullen [Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff], a key player in the game, has discussed its conclusions with senior White House officials involved in the discussions over the new strategy.

The last of five review sessions on Afghanistan strategy, running altogether 15 hours, was held last week in the Situation Room, the Washington Post reported.

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