KABUL, Afghanistan -- A military helicopter crashed during an earlymorning operation in southern Afghanistan on Monday, killing threeAustralian commandoes and an American servicemember, officials said.
Two other international service members were killed Sunday inseparate bombings in the south, NATO announced without specifyingnationalities. One of them was an American, according to a U.S.spokesman, Col. Wayne Shanks.
The crash was being investigated but there were no indications of enemy involvement, NATO said in a statement.
The Australian government said three of the dead were Australians,and U.S. Lt. Col. Joseph T. Breasseale said the fourth servicememberkilled was American.
Australian Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston said seven other Australian soldiers were wounded, two of them badly.
This is a tragic day for Australia, and for the Australian defenseforce," Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said in a statement to Parliament."We know our mission in Afghanistan is hard, but this mission iscritical for our common security." There were 15 people aboard the helicopter, 10 of them Australians, according to Australian Defense Minister John Faulkner.
The crash comes in a particularly deadly month for NATO forces. Withthe most recent deaths, at least 59 international troops, including 36Americans, have died so far in June. That puts June among the deadliestmonths for international forces in the nearly nine-year war. Thedeadliest month so far for the military alliance was July 2009 when 75troops, including 44 Americans, were killed.
The rising death toll underscores the precarious situation forAfghanistan's international allies as violence has ramped up thissummer.
The United Nations plans to pull some of its approximately 1,000foreign staffers from the country in the next three months, accordingto a U.N. report issued last week. The world body has been facingrecruitment and housing problems since it tightened security forstaffers in the wake of an attack on a residential hotel in Kabul inOctober where U.N. election staffers were staying. Five U.N. employeesdied in the attack.
The goal, according to the report, is to reduce the number of U.N.staff in Afghanistan as much as possible without compromising theeffectiveness of the mission.
Dan McNorton, a U.N. spokesman in Afghanistan, said that onlysupport staff would be relocated. He would not give a figure on howmany people will be moved, saying only that it was "a few" or "a smallnumber."
The helicopter crashed before dawn in southern Kandahar province,and the operation it had been part of was still ongoing, Houston said.
Other coalition helicopters that were part of the same push landednear the downed aircraft and airlifted out the wounded, he said. Moredetails on the operation were not given.
NATO has launched a major operation to secure the biggest southerncity, Kandahar, capital of the province where the Taliban were firstorganized in the 1990s.
Australia has some 1,500 troops in Afghanistan alongside NATOforces. Monday's deaths take Australia's military death toll inAfghanistan to 16.
Australia's 1,550 troops in Afghanistan are based mainly in Uruzganprovince, and are mostly involved in training Afghan security forces.