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Helicopters crash: Afghanistan takes heavy toll on US choppers

US helicopters are flying in Afghanistan and Iraq three to five times more than they would in peacetime. With two helicopter crashes, Afghanistan saw its worst day for US deaths in more than four years on Monday.

Afghan army soldiers watch as a US helicopter flies over a Polish helicopter at a military base in Ghazni province, Afghanistan, on Monday.

Mustafa Andalib/Reuters

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Monday's deadly crashes involving US helicopters in Afghanistan highlight the extent to which American forces depend on helicopters for travel throughout that vast, mountainous country.

Depending on the model, US copters are flying in Afghanistan and Iraq three to five times more than they would in peacetime. That may be indicative of how hard American units are using all their large pieces of equipment, from cargo aircraft to armored mine-resistant vehicles.

"We're flying the rotors off helicopters in Afghanistan," says Stephen Biddle, senior fellow for defense policy at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) in Washington.

Helicopter crashes killed 14 US personnel on Monday, making it the deadliest day for American forces in Afghanistan in more than four years.

In the country's west, a US helicopter went down after leaving the scene of a firefight, killing seven troops and three Drug Enforcement Administration agents.

The personnel had been involved in an antinarcotics operation, according to a military spokesman, who added that hostile action was not the likely cause of the crash, as the helicopter was not taking fire when it took off.

Separately, two US Marine helicopters collided in flight over the southern province of Helmand, killing four American troops and wounding two more.

Helicopters are at a premium in today's wars, according to US officials. Since the invasion of Iraq in March 2003, American copters have flown more than 3 million flight hours, pointed out Lt. Gen. Stephen M. Speakes, deputy chief of staff of the Army, in an appearance before the House Armed Services Committee earlier this year.

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