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Published: Saturday, 7/18/2009

US fighter jet crashes in Afghanistan; 2 crew dead


KABUL A U.S. Air Force F-15E Strike Eagle fighter jet crashed early Saturday in central Afghanistan, killing the two crew members, the U.S. military said.

Also Saturday, a suicide driver blew up his explosive-laden vehicle next to an Afghan army convoy in Zabul province, killing three soldiers and wounding three others, Defense Ministry spokesman Mohammad Zahir Azimi said.

A statement by the Air Force Central Command said the crash was not due to hostile fire, and a board of officers would be convened to determine the cause. Names of the crew members were not released. Their deaths bring to 50 the number of international service members killed in Afghanistan in July already the deadliest month of the war for NATO forces.

No fighter jets have crashed in Afghanistan in years. Militants are able to shoot down helicopters with rockets, but are not known to have the anti-aircraft weaponry necessary to bring down a high-flying jet.

The U.S. statement did not say where the crash happened. But Afghan authorities said the plane went down in the Nawur district of Ghazni province in central Afghanistan a peaceful area populated by the ethnic Hazara minority.

Mohammed Qasim Naziri, the deputy district chief, said the crash site was between two villages in a desert surrounded by mountains about 20 miles (30 kilometers) south of the town of Nawur.

He said local people notified police of the crash but by the time authorities reached the site U.S. troops had surrounded the area and barred Afghan authorities from approaching the wreckage.

Elsewhere, the U.S. Air Force said F-15Es and B-1B bombers dropped numerous guided bombs on Taliban positions in southern Afghanistan's Helmand province on Friday. U.S. Air Force A-10s and F-15Es also bombed and strafed insurgents Friday in Kunar province of eastern Afghanistan, the Air Force statement said.

In Nangarhar province, a gunfight broke out Friday between Taliban fighters and local civilians after militants fired at an Afghan army officer who had come to visit his relatives, local official Ahmad Zia Abdulzai said.

Abdulzai said three militants and two civilians were killed and one civilian was missing. Eleven militants were captured, eight of them Pakistanis, and were handed over to police in Jalalabad on Saturday, he said.

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