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Helicopter missing in Afghanistan

Al Jazeera.net | December 4, 2006

Nato has lost contact with one of its chartered helicopters travelling from Kandahar to Tirin Kot base in the Uruzgan province of Afghanistan.

Taliban fighters claim to have downed the aircraft, a Russian MI25, using a rocket.

Nato's International Security Assistance Force (Isaf) could not confirm that the helicopter had been shot down.

A spokesman said: "Searches are continuing to find the craft."

The MI25 helicopter, the largest Russian cargo helicopter in existence, was manned by a Russian crew and used to supply Dutch military bases in Afghanistan.

The helicopter left Kandahar on Saturday carrying supplies but no personnel.

An Al Jazeera film crew had travelled in the aircraft less than 24 hours before it went down.

Al Jazeera correspondent James Bays said: "Although the MI25 seemed serviceable, we were disturbed that the Russian crew did not ask us to fit our seat belts and a lot of the cargo was not strapped down properly - it was allowed to move freely around the hold."

He said that although the Taliban has claimed responsibility for shooting down the aircraft, the helicopter had been flying in bad weather.

In another incident, the Taliban says it has carried a suicide car bombing that killed at least eight people in an attack against Nato troops in Kandahar on Sunday.

The bomber attempted to ram a military convoy in his car.

Three Nato soldiers were wounded and the blast damaged an open-topped Nato vehicle.

Three Afghan's were reported killed in the violence, while 19 people, including the three Nato soldiers, were wounded in the ensuing gunfire.

Troops are accused of firing on civilian vehicles as they moved away from the explosion.

Nato is investigating whether its troops fired on civilians. Nato spokesman Major Luke Knittig said: "We will establish the facts.

"It is still unclear in what way the troops reacted."

Almost 4,000 people, about a quarter of them civilians, have been killed in fighting this year in Afghanistan.

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