Seven US troops killed in Iraq helicopter crash

Seven US soldiers were killed when a Chinook transport helicopter crashed in southern Iraq today, the US military said

A military spokesman said it appeared mechanical failure was the cause of the crash of the CH-47 Chinook helicopter just after midnight.

"Right now it appears it was not hostile activity. It appears to be a mechnical malfunction," the spokesman said.

He said the total number of personnel on board the helicopter was seven. The original number killed had been put at five, with two soldiers missing. The remains of those two soldiers were later found, the spokesman said.

The helicopter was part of an aerial convoy flying from neighbouring Kuwait to the Balad US military air base in Iraq.

The crash took place about 100 km (60 miles) west of the southern Iraqi city of Basra.

A rapid reaction force was dispatched from Basra, Iraq's second largest city, the military said, while a road convoy in the area was also diverted to the scene.

The US military in Iraq mostly uses Apache attack helicopters as well as Black Hawks, which are usually deployed to transport small numbers of soldiers around the country.

The larger twin-engine Chinooks have the capacity to carry dozens of people.

The US military said 69 helicopters have crashed in Iraq since the US-led invasion in 2003. The Brookings Institution's Iraq Index says 36 of those were due to enemy fire.

With violence at four-year lows in Iraq, the United States has been gradually withdrawing troops from the country.

The Pentagon will pull 8,000 more soldiers from Iraq by February, leaving 138,000 troops deployed there. All five extra combat brigades sent to Iraq last year completed their withdrawal in July and have not been replaced.

Despite a drop in overall violence, the Bush administration has taken a cautious approach to troop cuts and any decision on a major withdrawal will be left to the next US president, who takes office in January.

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