Two UK servicemen were killed yesterday when two British helicopters crashed in northern Iraq in the early hours, Defence Secretary Des Browne said yesterday.
Browne added that one serviceman was very seriously injured. It is believed that up to fifteen others are injured, some seriously.
The helicopters came down in a rural area south-west of Taji, home to a huge US military base north of Baghdad.
Browne would not confirm which service or regiment the dead personnel belonged to.
He said: ‘Initial reports indicate that the crash was an accident and was not a result of an attack by insurgents.
‘An investigation is under way and I will not comment further on the details of the incident at this stage.’
The helicopters were both Pumas, which have an air crew of three and can carry 16 fully-equipped troops or up to two tonnes of freight.
British forces’ field of operation is in southern Iraq. But UK units, including special forces troops, carry out missions all over the country.
An MoD spokesman said: ‘I can’t talk about the particular mission they were involved in, but we do have units operating as part of the Coalition across Iraq.’
Puma helicopters first entered service in 1971 and are used as a battlefield helicopter to transport troops and loads by day or night.
In what appeared to be a cover-up, it was first reported that the helicopters and victims were American.
A number of helicopters have been shot down by insurgents in the same area.
• Second news story
40 Afghan civilians killed or wounded in US forces massacre
The US military has determined that more than 40 Afghan civilians were killed or wounded by US marines after a suicide bombing in a village near Jalalabad last month, The Washington Post reported yesterday.
Citing the US commander who ordered the probe, the newspaper said there was no evidence that the marine special operations platoon came under small-arms fire after the bombing.
This is despite the marines reporting taking enemy fire and seeing people with weapons.
The troops continued shooting at perceived threats as they travelled miles from the site of the March 4 attack, said Major General Frank Kearney, head of Special Operations Command Central, according to the report.
They hit several vehicles, killing at least ten people and wounding 33, among them children and elderly villagers. . .
‘We found . . . no brass that we can confirm that small-arms fire came at them,’ Kearney said.
‘We have testimony from marines that is in conflict with unanimous testimony from civilians at the sites.’
The results of the preliminary investigation are similar to the findings of an official Afghan human rights inquiry.
Both contradict initial reports that the civilians might have been killed in a small-arms attack that followed the suicide bombing.
At the time, journalists at the scene complained that their cameras were seized hold of and US forces attempted to destroy footage and images.