Two Marines Killed in Afghanistan Helicopter Crash

Two U.S. Marines are dead and five others injured, two of them critically, in the crash of their helicopter in a high mountain area of Afghanistan today.

Army Capt. Tom Bryant said all five of the injured Marines were evacuated from the crash site to Bagram air base near the capital, Kabul, and then flown to another U.S. base by a C-130 transport plane.

The cause of the crash has not been confirmed, but there have been no reports of hostile fire.

The CH-53E Super Stallion left Bagram air base near Kabul on a resupply mission with another helicopter and later made a "hard landing" about 40 miles to the south, Bryant said, citing a Marine statement.

"The site was quickly secured," Bryant said. "We quickly got medical personnel and others on the ground, got them evacuated back here. We have a robust medical treatment capability here."

Bryant would not say which U.S. forces were being resupplied. Small units of Special Forces have been scouring the country for leaders of Osama bin Laden's terror network.

At the U.S. military base in Kandahar, southern Afghanistan, Marine spokesman 1st Lt. James Jarvis said the identities of those involved would not be released until their families were notified.

The only other fatal crash of a U.S. military aircraft during the war occurred Oct. 19, when an Army helicopter crashed in Pakistan, killing two Army Rangers.

An American soldier was killed in an ambush in eastern Afghanistan earlier this month, and a Central Intelligence Agency was killed during a prison uprising in the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif in November.

Changing of the Guard

Meanwhile, U.S. Army forces Saturday took control from the Marines of the United States' largest military base in Afghanistan, as the interim leader of the war-torn country traveled abroad for the first time.

The Army's 101st Airborne paratrooper division relieved Marines at the U.S. base at Kandahar airport without an official ceremony.

Most of the Marines, who at one point numbered about 2,000 at the base, are returning to their ships, although they will remain ready for deployment on special missions, a U.S. official told the Associated Press. It was left unclear how many Marines would remain at the Kandahar base.

There still is unrest in Afghanistan, with a newly installed Afghan national government trying to disarm the populace and calm local rivalries, and with suspected Sept. 11 mastermind Osama bin Laden and former Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar still unaccounted for.

On Friday, local police in Kandahar began a crackdown on arms in an effort to strengthen the new Afghan administration's control of city. Reporters in the city said police were searching cars, frisking people and checking documents at checkpoints across the city. Once the spiritual and ideological heart of the Taliban, Kandahar is a city with a majority Pashtun population and the city is believed to be awash with firearms.

First Foreign Trip

Despite pockets of instability at home, Interim Afghan Prime Minister Hamid Karzai on Friday left on his first foreign trip — to Saudi Arabia, China, the United States and Japan, where he will attend a conference in Tokyo for Afghanistan funding and reconstruction.

In an interview with the German magazine Der Spiegel published Saturday, Karzai said the world must come through with funding to help Afghanistan rebuild itself, or it would again become a "sanctuary for terrorists."

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