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KABUL, AFGHANISTAN — The U.S. Air Force on Sunday said the coalition plane that crashed the day before in southern Afghanistan, killing four service members, was an MC-12 Liberty aircraft.
The twin-engine turboprop plane provides intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, or direct support to ground forces. It crashed in Zabul province, about 110 miles (177 kilometers) northeast of Kandahar Air Field, the Air Force statement said.
The four Air Force service members, whose bodies were recovered, were deployed to the 361st Expeditionary Reconnaissance Squadron with the 451st Air Expeditionary Wing at Kandahar Air Field, the statement said. The cause of the accident is under investigation, but NATO has said initial reports indicate there was no enemy activity in the area where the plane went down.
A Defense Department news release late Sunday indentified the airmen:
* Capt. Brandon L. Cyr, 28, of Woodbridge, Va. He was assigned to the 906th Air Refueling Squadron, Scott Air Force Base, Ill.
* Capt. Reid K. Nishizuka, 30, of Kailua, Hawaii. He was assigned to the 427th Reconnaissance Squadron, Beale Air Force Base, Calif.
* Staff Sgt. Richard A. Dickson, 24, of Rancho Cordova, Calif. He was assigned to the 306th Intelligence Squadron, Beale Air Force Base, Calif.
* Staff Sgt. Daniel N. Fannin, 30, of Morehead, Ky. He was assigned to the 552nd Operations Support Squadron, Tinker Air Force Base, Okla.
Also Sunday, a remote-controlled roadside bomb killed three police officers in eastern Afghanistan, an attack the Taliban claimed as the opening round of their spring offensive.
The bomb exploded in Ghazni province beneath a police convoy that was traveling to the district of Zana Khan to take part in a military operation against insurgents, Mohammad Ali Ahmadi, the province’s deputy governor, told The Associated Press.
He said the blast destroyed the vehicle carrying Col. Mohammad Hussain, the deputy provincial police chief, killing him and two other officers. Ahmadi said two officers also were wounded in the insurgent operation, adding that it clearly targeted Hussain. Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid claimed responsibility in an email sent to the media. He called the bombing the first attack in the spring offensive that Taliban’s leadership said it was starting Sunday.
April already has been the deadliest month this year for attacks across the country, where Afghan security forces are increasingly taking the lead on the battlefield in the war that has lasted more than 11 years.
Insurgents have escalated attacks recently in a bid to gain power and influence ahead of next year’s presidential election and the planned withdrawal of most U.S. and other foreign combat troops by the end of 2014. U.S.-backed efforts to try to reconcile the Islamic militant movement with the Afghan government are gaining little traction.
Taliban has named its spring offensive after Khalid ibn al-Walid, a companion of Islam’s Prophet Muhammad who became a legendary Muslim military commander known as the “Drawn Sword of God.” The insurgents said their forces planned to infiltrate enemy ranks to conduct so-called insider attacks and target military and diplomatic sites with suicide bombers.
The U.S.-led international military coalition said Afghan and foreign forces arrested six insurgents on Sunday — three in Helmand province, one in Baghlan province and two in Kandahar province. The report said the two taken into custody in Kandahar city included a local Taliban leader who allegedly had coordinated assassinations, sniper ambushes and other attacks there against coalition and Afghan forces.
There are about 100,000 international troops in Afghanistan, including 66,000 Americans. A top priority of the U.S. force, which is slated to drop to about 32,000 by February 2014, is boosting the strength and confidence of Afghan forces.