KABUL (AP) - A civilian helicopter ferrying humanitarian aid was shot down in a southern Afghan province where fighting with the Taliban is raging, killing all six Ukrainian crew members and a child on the ground, officials said. Three U.S. service members and an Italian soldier died in the latest clashes.

The transport helicopter crashed in flames Tuesday in the Sangin district of Helmand province, the center of Afghanistan's opium poppy cultivation where thousands of Marines are conducting their biggest offensive since the hardline Islamic movement was ousted from power in 2001.

NATO officials in Kabul said the cause of the crash was under investigation and gave no further details.

But the civil aviation authority of the former Soviet republic of Moldova said a rocket or a missile struck the Mi-26 helicopter, owned by the Moldovan air charter company Pecotox-Airi. The helicopter had been ferrying humanitarian aid when the crash took place, the Moldovans said in a statement.

The Taliban posted a statement on its Web site claiming the helicopter was brought down "by anti-aircraft fire" with 37 British soldiers on board. Moldovan and British authorities said no British troops were on the helicopter. Daud Ahmadi, the spokesman for the Helmand governor, said a 6-year-old child on the ground was also killed.
Associated Press Writer

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