Pilot of American U-2 spy plane dies in crash after Afghan mission

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The Independent Online

The pilot of a US Air Force U-2 spy aircraft has been killed in a crash while returning to a base in south-west Asia after a mission in support of American operations in Afghanistan.

The pilot of a US Air Force U-2 spy aircraft has been killed in a crash while returning to a base in south-west Asia after a mission in support of American operations in Afghanistan.

The statement issued by US Central Command, which runs operations in both Iraq and Afghanistan, gave few details of the crash, which occurred early yesterday local time and whose cause is under investigation. It said only that it was in a friendly country which it would not name because of "host country sensitivity". In US military parlance, "south-west Asia" denotes the area stretching from Saudi Arabia to Pakistan.

There was speculation the crash came after a mission in connection with the latest savage fighting in Afghanistan. US forces claim to have killed up to 60 militants in battles in Zabul province south of the capital Kabul, close to the border with Pakistan. The fighting is the latest flare-up of Taliban-inspired resistance, whose intensity has surprised Washington.

"The site of the crash has been secured to ensure the safety of citizens and the integrity of the site for investigation team members," the statement said. The 380th Air Expeditionary Wing, to which the plane was attached, "mourns the loss of a true American hero," a spokesman said.

The wing has been based at al-Dhafra air base near Abu Dhabi, in the UAE, since early 2002. The aircraft that crashed is believed to be a U-2S, a derivative of the original U-2 which first flew in 1955. The low-altitude handling of the aircraft is notoriously tricky, especially during landings.

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