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2 British troops killed in Afghanistan

KABUL, Afghanistan -- An insurgent attack on a British base killed two soldiers and an Afghan interpreter, military officials said yesterday, while at least 20 militants died during clashes and coalition airstrikes.

A US helicopter crashed in an accident in southern Afghanistan, killing one crew member, the US military said.

The deaths came amid a massive anti-Taliban campaign in southern Afghanistan involving more than 10,000 Afghan and coalition soldiers. It is the largest military offensive since the hard-line regime's ouster in late 2001.

The two British soldiers died after their base was hit by small arms fire and rocket-propelled grenades Saturday night in southern Helmand province, said a military spokesman, Captain Drew Gibson.

An Afghan interpreter also was killed, coalition spokesman Major Quentin Innis said. Four other British soldiers were wounded but are in stable condition, he said.

British Defense Secretary Des Browne mourned the deaths of the two soldiers and said Britain must be prepared for tough fighting ahead.

``Our troops are in Afghanistan to help the Afghans rebuild their country. That means facing down the Taliban who will go to any lengths to oppose progress," he said.

There has been a spike of violence in recent weeks as the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force prepares to take over security in southern Afghanistan from the US-led coalition.

The AH-64 Apache attack helicopter plunged to the ground shortly after taking off from Kandahar Air Field while responding to a reported rocket attack against the air base, the coalition said in a statement.

One crew member was killed, while the other was injured and evacuated for emergency treatment.

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