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5 American service members killed in southern Afghanistan

From David Ariosto, CNN
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Forces kill Taliban who downed chopper
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Al Jazeera airs video of what it says is helicopter wreckage
  • American service members die in an improvised explosive device attack
  • Coalition forces have killed 189 militants since July 23
  • The Taliban disputes that number
RELATED TOPICS

Kabul, Afghanistan (CNN) -- Five American service members were killed Thursday after an improvised explosive device detonated in southern Afghanistan, officials said.

The attack occurred several days after 30 Americans died in a helicopter crash in central-eastern Afghanistan. That was America's worst single-incident loss of life since the war began.

No other details were provided regarding Thursday's incident.

On Wednesday, Afghan Defense Ministry spokesman Gen. Mohammad Zahir Azimi told reporters that coalition forces had killed 189 militants in joint operations against Taliban insurgents across the country in the past three weeks.

Azimi announced that 362 insurgents had been detained since July 23, as NATO and Afghan forces stepped up raids against Taliban strongholds.

"We've increased our efforts over the last several months," said Lt. Cmdr. Jimmie Cummings, a spokesman for NATO's International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan. "The focus is to allow them to have less and less (in terms of) safe havens."

But a Taliban spokesman rejected the insurgent casualty figure cited by the Defense Ministry in what appears to be the latest example of coalition forces vying with insurgents in attempting to control information from the battlefield.

Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said fewer than 30 militants had been killed during that time, adding that the insurgency had stepped up its guerrilla tactics and mine attacks.

Mujahid also rejected an earlier NATO statement that said coalition forces had killed insurgents responsible for the downing in eastern Afghanistan of a CH-47 Chinook helicopter that left 38 U.S. and Afghan personnel dead. He said a NATO airstrike killed a separate group of insurgents, while those responsible for Saturday's strike slipped into a separate Afghan province.

He did not elaborate, and CNN could not independently confirm the claims.

Al Jazeera aired Thursday video of what it said was wreckage of the helicopter. The video shows unspent shells; papers in English and rubble.

"These are the only pictures of the helicopter remains that NATO forces were not able to hide," the narrator says. "It's apparent that the helicopter did not only fall, but it exploded and scattered."

Saturday's attack on the helicopter represented a major blow to America's most elite fighting unit: 17 U.S. Navy Seals were killed along with other special operations forces, Afghan commandos and a civilian translator.

U.S. Special Operations Forces have conducted at least 2,500 raids by helicopter in the last year and Saturday's strike was the first during that time in which an aircraft supporting operations was lost, ISAF said.

Meanwhile, the country faces looming questions over its long-term stability and the prospect of a resurgence by the Taliban as a security handover and NATO drawdown take place.

But it remains unclear whether recent attacks by Taliban fighters represent newfound insurgent strength.

In May, the Taliban launched what they called a Spring Offensive against Afghan and NATO forces, in a wave of attacks that has continued into late summer.

But NATO forces, bolstered by last year's "surge" of 33,000 additional U.S. troops, say they have increased operations against Taliban safe havens, pushing insurgents from strongholds in the south and east.

Meanwhile, 10,000 U.S. soldiers are scheduled to depart Afghanistan by year's end, with the full drawdown set for the end of 2014.

Western diplomats, however, predict a NATO military presence will extend beyond the drawdown date.

CNN's Larry Shaughnessy and Kamal Ghattas contributed to this report.