Death toll rises to 42 in blackest weekend for Afghanistan allies

FOUR Nato troops were killed in Afghanistan yesterday, at the end of a deadly weekend for coalition troops.

Saturday saw 38 people - among them at least 17 US Navy Seals from the unit that led the operation to kill Osama Bin Laden - die in a helicopter crash.

France confirmed that two of its men were among those killed by insurgents yesterday in an operation in Kapisa province, north-east of Kabul. The other two troops were killed in the south of the country, but their nationality had not been confirmed last night.

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The United States, meanwhile, has launched an investigation into claims that Taleban forces were responsible for bringing down the Chinook helicopter in Wardak province, which saw 30 Americans killed, as well as Afghan commandos. It was the single largest loss of life for the US since the Afghan conflict began a decade ago.

Officials said last night that the troops had been travelling back from a mission to provide assistance to a US army ranger unit which had come under fire from insurgents.

Eyewitnesses reported seeing the helicopter being hit by a rocket before catching fire and crashing.

The latest incidemts bring the number of coalition troops killed in the country this year to 369.

Foreign Office minister Alistair Burt said that the Chinook crash would not effect Britain's determination to achieve a stable Afghanistan.

"However it happened, the loss of so many forces is a matter of deep regret," he said. "It is terribly sad.

"It shows the commitment that both the US and ourselves, and the Afghan community and the Afghan soldiers, are making to try to make their country safe and secure for the future.

"We will go on. There will be incidents such as the ones we have seen, but it is important to balance it with the other good work that is being done."

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Prime Minister David Cameron last night paid tribute to the American dead, saying: "My thoughts - and the thoughts of the whole country - are with their families and friends.

"They have made the ultimate sacrifice in helping to protect our security, and to build a more stable and peaceful Afghanistan. We remember, too, the Afghan troops who died alongside them.

"Britain, and our own armed forces serving in Afghanistan, will continue to work steadfastly alongside their US and Afghan colleagues as they help prepare Afghanistan to secure its own territory."

US president Barack Obama said the deaths were "a reminder of the extraordinary sacrifices made by the men and women of our military and their families, including all who serve in Afghanistan".

Americans account for 100,000 of the 140,000 Nato troops stationed in Afghanistan.