KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) -- A NATO helicopter crashed Tuesday in southern Afghanistan, killing nine international troops in a region where forces are ramping up pressure on Taliban insurgents. It was the deadliest chopper crash for the coalition in four years.
The cause was not immediately clear. The Taliban claimed to have shot down the helicopter, but NATO said there were no reports of hostile fire.
It happened in Zabul province - rugged terrain where helicopters are heavily used to transport military troops spread over mountainous terrain with few roads.
The nationalities of the service members who died have not been released. So far this year, 525 U.S. and NATO forces have been killed in Afghanistan, surpassing the 504 killed last year. This year has been the deadliest for international forces since the war began in 2001.
One other coalition service member, an Afghan National Army soldier and a U.S. civilian were injured.
A NATO official speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to disclose the information said the crash occurred in northwestern Zabul. Mohammad Jan Rasoolyar, a spokesman for the provincial governor in Zabul, said the helicopter went down in Daychopan district.
"I was sitting taking my tea," said Nakeemullah, 20, who works transporting livestock in the area. "I heard noise and I went outside to see what happened.
"I saw a lot of smoke in the sky," said Nakeemullah, who uses only one name. "It was far away for me, but I could see that it was a helicopter and it went down on the backside of the mountain where I couldn't see."
NATO said there were no reports of enemy fire in the area. However, Taliban spokesman, Qari Yousef Ahmadi, told The Associated Press by telephone that insurgents shot down the helicopter. The Taliban often exaggerate their claims and sometimes taking credit for accidents.
Most helicopter crashes in the country have been accidents caused by maintenance problems or factors such as dust.
Before this latest event, the worst helicopter crash for coalition forces was in May 2006, a Chinook crashed attempting a nighttime landing on a small mountaintop in eastern Kunar province, killing 10 U.S. soldiers. That followed on a 2005 crash in Kunar that killed 16 Americans. In February 2007, a Chinook helicopter crashed in Zabul, killing eight U.S. personnel.
The most recent helicopter crash occurred in southern Kandahar province in August when a Canadian Chinook was shot down, injuring eight Canadians.
Afghan troops have been killed in helicopter crashes as well.
In January 2009, a top Afghan Army general for the western region of Afghanistan and 12 others were killed when their MI-17 helicopter went down in Shindand district of Herat province in western Afghanistan.
Associated Press Writer Mirwais Khan in Kandahar contributed to this report.