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As the war expanded into the Philippines, an army MH-47E chopper crashed over the Pacific in February, killing all 10 troops aboard. And just last week, on May 8, two Navy T-39 Sabreliner jets went down near Pensacola, Florida, claiming the lives of seven passengers —among them two civilians and a Saudi air officer.

Military insiders say the rash of downings stems from the obvious increase in flight time, both for combat and training. Pentagon whistle-blower Chuck Spinney discounted the age of the fleet, saying aircraft should be continually overhauled anyway. Spinney said there are other forces at work. "In Afghanistan, one of the factors is the altitude and wind conditions," he said. "It gets more difficult to fly in the mountains. You have updrafts and downdrafts and side drafts, and in a combat situation, you may be tempted to land too fast. Another reason is just the gobs and gobs of dust.

"Blaming it on age is a very dangerous thing," Spinney continued. "The Marines in part want you to believe that the age is a problem because they want these V-22s"—a next-generation chopper—"which are a piece of shit."

A May 11 article in The New York Times mentioned that "thousands of satellite photographs of Afghanistan lay idly in storage at the height of the American military campaign." Could the lack of adequate maps have played a role? Were the deaths from poor training or musty equipment? One Pentagon spokesperson declined to comment. Another said the number of crashes didn't seem unusual to him.

Additional reporting by Gabrielle Jackson, Meritxell Mir and Michael Ridley.
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