Taliban downs US chopper, killing four

Islamabad - A US military helicopter crashed in Pakistan after taking fire from Afghanistan's Taliban militia, American officials said on Tuesday, and a local news agency reported four personnel dead.

News of the incident came as US warplanes continued to hammer at Taliban positions in northern Afghanistan, where the opposition claimed a new victory in its drive to reach the strategic city of Mazar-i-Sharif.

Pakistani officials said a US helicopter had crashed to the north of Dalbandin air base in south-western Baluchistan province near the Afghan border.

Meanwhile, the anti-Taliban forces said they had taken complete control of Zari district, 70km southwest of Mazar-i-Sharif, from the ruling Taliban militia at dawn after an all-night battle.

Meanwhile, British Prime Minister Tony Blair will on Wednesday press US President George W Bush to accept more European help in the war in Afghanistan to head off growing frustration over the US's apparent indifference to international offers of military support.

It emerged on Monday that the "council of war" held by seven EU countries in Downing Street on Sunday night, which reiterated European backing for the US, also underlined the impatience of some nations which have made public offers of military support.

Blair is sympathetic to the offer by Italy, Spain and the Netherlands to join Britain, France and Germany in providing support for the American-dominated action in Afghanistan. He will ask Bush to accept more back-up from EU countries when the two leaders meet at the White House on Wednesday night.

From Washington it is reported that with its use of the 6 750kg "daisy cutter" bomb in Afghanistan, the US has unleashed one of its most powerful weapons - billed as the world's largest conventional bomb.

The BLU-82 combines a watery mixture of ammonium nitrate and aluminum with air, then ignites the mist for a huge explosion that incinerates everything within 549m. The shock wave can be felt kilometres away.

In another development from News York, it is reported that an Interpol expert serving on a UN panel investigating diamond smuggling and gun-running in Liberia said on Monday it was plausible that Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda network used diamonds to get cash.

"Wherever diamonds are, be it Angola, be it Sierra Leone or any place, definitely they will try to use that channel. That is common sense," Mr Harjit Singh Sandhu of India, one of five panel experts, told a news conference. - Independent Foreign Service, Reuters and AP

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