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Six Die In Copter Crash, Afghan War Toll Mounts

KABUL (Reuters) -- Six Ukrainians supplying British troops in Afghanistan were killed in a helicopter crash and two U.S. Marines and an Italian soldier were killed in what could become the bloodiest month in the eight-year-old war.

Authorities in Moldova said the cargo helicopter, owned by an aviation firm there, was brought down by a missile. The Taliban also claimed to have shot down the chopper, a rare occurrence.

Western forces confirmed a helicopter had crashed bringing supplies to a British base at Sangin in Helmand Province and six foreigners were killed.

In Brussels, a NATO spokesman said the cause of the crash was under investigation but he could not confirm details of passengers on board.

A total of 43 foreign soldiers have already died this month as U.S. and British troops simultaneously launched the two biggest operations of the war to seize Helmand Province, the Taliban's opium-producing heartland.

The highest death toll for Western forces in Afghanistan since 2001 is 46 for an entire month.

The mounting death toll among Western troops in Afghanistan is fulfilling commanders' predictions that the deployment of large-scale U.S. reinforcements would mean higher casualties.

U.S. President Barack Obama, who has identified the insurgencies in Afghanistan and Pakistan as the main threat to U.S. security, is presiding over an escalation strategy in which the number of U.S. troops will rise from 32,000 to 68,000 by the end of the year.

About 57,000 U.S. troops are in place now, along with another 36,000 troops from Western allies. Commanders have said they expect a sharp spike in casualties as new troops move into areas held by fighters ahead of an August 20 presidential election.