NATO Denies Taliban Claim After 7 Die in U.S. Plane Crash

Mike O'Brien

A U.S. civilian cargo plane crashed shortly after takeoff on Monday at Bagram airfield, north of the Afghan capital, killing all seven people on board.

The Taliban claimed responsibility for downing the Boeing 747-400, but NATO denied their involvement, saying there was no insurgent activity in the area at the time.

The coalition said the aircraft crashed from a low altitude and cause was being investigated.

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The plane – owned by National Airlines, a Florida-based subsidiary of National Air Cargo – was carrying vehicles and other cargo.

National Air Cargo vice-president Shirley Kaufman said the victims were four pilots, two mechanics and a load master, whose job was to ensure to correct balance and weight of the cargo.

She told the Associated Press: "We are not yet releasing the identities of the colleagues we lost out of respect for their families who need a little more time to reach other loved ones."

The crash came just two days after a NATO plane came down in southern Afghanistan on Saturday, killing four coalition troops.

The Taliban did not claim responsibility for the crash, but it did announce a spring offensive on the same day, saying it will target military and diplomatic sites with suicide bombers and deadly insider attacks.

Afghan security forces are increasingly taking the lead on the battlefield and the country’s defense ministry said it is prepared for the Taliban's new campaign, announcing: "The Afghan National Army is ready to neutralize the offensive."

Insurgents have escalated attacks to gain power and influence ahead of next year's presidential election and the planned withdrawal of most American and other foreign combat troops by the end of 2014.

April has been the worst month for combat deaths so far this year. The Associated Press puts the death toll at 261 people — including civilians, Afghan security forces and foreign troops — along with 217 insurgents.

In April of last year that figure was 179 civilians, foreign troops and Afghan security forces and 268 insurgents.

Despite the increase in violence, Major General Robert B. Abrams, the top U.S. and NATO commander in southern Afghanistan, says he is confident the country won’t fall back into the hands of the Taliban when international forces pull out in two years — citing what he calls a "homegrown" rejection of the Taliban and the readiness of the Afghan security forces.

He said: "All the places in southern Afghanistan considered the heartland for the Taliban, no one expected that the people here would rise up against the Taliban in a sort of homegrown, anti-Taliban movement, and it happened here. It is real."

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