A Syrian military helicopter has been shot down in northwest Syria, where an intensifying government offensive to retake the country’s last rebel-held areas has caused a massive wave of displacement.
Syrian state media said the aircraft was hit by a missile at approximately 1:40pm (11:40 GMT) on Friday near the town of Urum al-Kubra in the western countryside of Aleppo.
“This lead the helicopter to crash, killing all crew on board,” SANA news agency said, without providing any information on who was behind the incident.
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Turkey’s Anadolu news agency also said rebels reported striking the helicopter while it was flying over the western Aleppo province.
The incident came days after rebels said they had downed another government helicopter on Tuesday near the town of Nairab.
Since December, the Russia-backed Syrian government forces have been pressing ahead with a ferocious assault on the last rebel bastion in the country’s northwest.
The offensive has triggered the largest wave of displacement in the nine-year war, with more than 800,000 people fleeing towards the Turkish border. Turkey, which already hosts 3.6 million Syrian refugees, says it cannot absorb any more.
Al Jazeera’s Hashem Ahelbarra, reporting from Clivegozu on the Turkish side of the border, said aid agencies are struggling to cope with the “huge number” of people displaced by the fighting.
“It’s a very delicate situation and activists are already saying it’s already a tragic humanitarian situation,” he said.
The intensified fighting, which saw five Turkish troops killed this week in Syrian government shelling, is the most serious since Ankara, which is supporting certain rebel groups in northest Syria’s Idlib province, first sent forces to its neighbouring country in 2016.
In recent weeks, Turkey’s military has deployed large convoys of vehicles carrying commandos, tanks and howitzers to shore up its military posts in Idlib.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), a UK-based war monitor that relies on sources in Syria, said on Friday that Turkey had deployed around 6,500 soldiers to reinforce existing units in the country’s northwest, as well as some 1,900 military vehicles since early February.
Meanwhile, government forces have made new gains in northwest Syria in recent days.
They are currently securing areas along the key MP5 highway they seized from rebels this week, according to reports. They are pushing west of the motorway that connects Syria’s four largest cities and is economically vital for the government.
In an attempt to consolidate a “security belt” around the road, they captured a key base on Friday that they had lost to rebels in 2012, SOHR said.
The base’s recapture marks a symbolic win for the government, which has reduced the rebel-held pocket to just over half of Idlib province, as well as slivers of neighbouring Aleppo and Latakia.
US military confirms Afghan crash but disputes plane was downed
The US military has confirmed one of its planes crashed in eastern Afghan province of Ghazni on Monday, but disputed claim that the aircraft had been brought down by enemy fire. “While the cause of crash is under investigation, there are no indications the crash was caused by enemy fire,” US military spokesman Colonel Sonny…
The US military has confirmed one of its planes crashed in eastern Afghan province of Ghazni on Monday, but disputed claim that the aircraft had been brought down by enemy fire.
“While the cause of crash is under investigation, there are no indications the crash was caused by enemy fire,” US military spokesman Colonel Sonny Leggett said in a statement.
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Leggett gave no information on casualties in the crash.
Pictures and a video on social media purportedly from the crash site showed what could be the remains of a Bombardier E-11A aircraft. Reuters could not verify the images.
Senior Afghan officials told Reuters the authorities had rushed local personnel to locate and identify the wreckage in a mountainous area partly controlled by the Taliban.
The US military has confirmed one of its planes crashed in eastern Afghan province of Ghazni on Monday [Saifullah Maftoon/AP Photo]
Taliban claim plane brought down
The Taliban, which currently control or hold sway over around half the country, claimed the plane was brought down.
“The plane, which was on an intelligence mission, was brought down in Sado Khel area of Deh Yak district of Ghazni province,” said Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid in a statement.
Mujahid did not say how the fighters had brought the plane down, which is used to provide communication capabilities in remote locations.
He said the crew on board included high-ranking officers from the United States, but a senior US defence official denied that senior American officers were involved.
The armed group, which has been waging a war against US-led forces since 2001, often exaggerates enemy casualty figures.
Local Afghan officials had said earlier on Monday that a passenger plane from the state-owned Ariana Airlines had crashed in the Taliban-held area. However, Ariana Airlines told denied initial reports that it was the owner of the plane.
“It does not belong to Ariana because the two flights managed by Ariana today, from Herat to Kabul and Herat to Delhi, are safe,” its acting CEO Mirwais Mirzakwal told Reuters.
Two officials from Ghazni province said the crashed aircraft appeared to belong to a foreign company.
“There is no exact information on casualties and the name of the airline,” Ghazni Provincial Governor Wahidullah Kaleemzai told private broadcaster Tolo News earlier on Monday.
The crash comes as the Taliban and US have been in talks on ending the 18-year war in Afghanistan. Taliban has been waging an armed rebellion since it was toppled from power following the September 2001 attacks in the US.
Negotiations between the two sides began last year in Doha but have been interrupted at least twice after Taliban attacks on US military personnel in September and December.
Last week, another round of talks kicked off with US Special Representative on Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad meeting repeatedly with the Taliban’s chief negotiator Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar.
The Taliban claimed the plane was brought down [Saifullah Maftoon/AP Photo]
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