RAF Nimrod death crash `an accident'

Four Canadian soldiers were killed and seven injured in ground battles in southern Afghanistan over the weekend.

Four Canadian soldiers were killed and seven injured in ground battles in southern Afghanistan over the weekend.

The casualties were engaged in Operation Medusa, which started on Saturday, Nato spokesman Major Scott Lundy said yesterday.

The latest deaths came as investigations continued into an RAF plane crash that killed all on board.

The burning wreckage of the RAF Nimrod MR2 was found 12 miles west of Kandahar in the south of the country on Saturday afternoon.

The reconnaissance aircraft issued an emergency call before it disappeared from radar screens, having suffered what was thought to be a technical fault.

Those on board included 12 RAF personnel, one Royal Marine and an Army soldier.

The Nimrod came down in an area where Afghan forces used air strikes and artillery over the weekend in a battle against suspected Taliban. The Afghan Defence Ministry said 89 militants had died during two days of fighting.

In Scotland, yesterday, tributes were paid to the Nimrod victims at RAF Kinloss in Moray.

Station commander Group Captain Chris Birks said the 12 RAF personnel had served with 120 Squadron and were "very experienced" in Afghanistan.

"As well as first class personnel, these were colleagues and friends of myself and my personnel," he said.

Wing Commander Martin Cannard, commanding officer of 120 Squadron, said the deaths had affected families all over the country.

A Board of Inquiry investigation has been launched into the cause of the crash but Defence Secretary Des Browne said all the indicators pointed towards an accident.

He dismissed as propaganda Taliban claims that they had shot the plane down with a Stinger missile.

Witness Abdul Manan, said he saw a small fire at the back of the plane before it crashed about 100 metres from his home with a huge explosion that "shook the whole village".

The crash site, near Kandahar, is east of the turbulent province of Helmand, where more than 4,000 British troops are based.

The Nimrod MR2, which is being joined by the Nimrod MRA4 in 2009, operates at high altitudes and carries out intellig-ence gathering and eavesdropping operations.

The last significant Nimrod crash occurred 11 years ago when all seven crew on board were killed while carrying out a display at the Toronto airshow.

Saturday's fallen aircraft, which was commissioned in 1979, underwent routine safety checks before its mission.

The Nimrod was supporting Operation Medusa, launched by the Nato-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and Afghan forces on Saturday, to try to clear Taliban resistance from the Panjwayi district of Kandahar.

The fighting intensified in Panjwayi yesterday with up to 89 Taliban fatalities in the last two days and the four Canadian Nato troops killed.

Saturday's crash caused the biggest single loss of British troops in Afghanistan or Iraq since the "war on terror" began in November 2001.

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