ISLAMABAD, Pakistan – A military helicopter ferrying troops to a tribal region that is a suspected hideout for top al Qaeda terrorists crashed into a mountainside Thursday, killing all 13 Pakistani soldiers on board.
Authorities believe a technical problem was to blame for the crash of the MI-17 helicopter, but they said the dead were martyrs in the war on terror, nonetheless.
Those killed were 10 soldiers, a colonel and two majors, Pakistan’s army said in a statement from Rawalpindi, a garrison city near the capital Islamabad. The helicopter was taking the men from Rawalpindi to Bannu, a dusty town on the edge of North Waziristan, when it crashed and burst into flames.
“In his last conversation on the radio, the captain of the helicopter informed the base about a technical fault and said that he was going for an emergency landing,” the army statement said. An inquiry was ordered to determine the exact cause of crash.
North and South Waziristan have been the scenes of major clashes between Pakistani soldiers and foreign fighters in which scores have been killed. The region is considered a likely hideout for al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden and his top deputy, Ayman al-Zawahri, though there is no hard intelligence on their location.
The helicopter was not involved in combat.