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17 US soldiers die in Iraq as choppers crash

Mosul (Iraq), November 16
At least 17 US soldiers were killed when two helicopters crashed in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul yesterday. US forces retrieved bodies of soldiers from the wreckage today.

The latest disaster for the US forces, involving their single heaviest loss of life since the Iraq conflict began, occurred only hours after Washington set the country on a swifter passage to self-rule in a bid to calm Iraqi anger at occupation.

But Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld insisted that the US forces would not begin leaving when a transitional government takes power in June under a plan unveiled yesterday by Iraq’s US-appointed Governing Council.

A US military spokesman described as speculation reports by Iraqi witnesses and one US officer at the scene that a rocket-propelled grenade had brought down the helicopters.

“The helicopters crashed in the vicinity at 6.30 p.m. (2100 hrs IST) last night,” Major Trey Cate, spokesman for the 101st Airborne Division, told reporters near the crash site in Mosul today. “They impacted the ground around 250 m from each other,” he said, adding that 17 soldiers had been killed and five wounded.

Cate said a formal investigation was under way. “We are moving bodies and debris from the scene now,” he added.

One Black Hawk slammed into the roof of a house in Mosul’s Bab Sinjar neighbourhood. The second hit a school building. Somehow, neither appears to have inflicted civilian casualties in the crowded residential area near the city centre.

A US officer at the scene said soon after the crashes that a rocket-propelled grenade had hit the tail rotor of one helicopter. — PTI

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