Aljazeera's correspondent in Afghanistan on Saturday quoted Taliban sources as saying that the group's fighters downed a warplane belonging to multinational forces over Banjwai in Kandahar province.

Agencies said Abdul Khaliq, a self-professed Taliban spokesman, claimed responsibility for beginning down the aircraft, but the British defence secretary, Des Browne, rejected the claim, saying the crash appeared to be "a terrible accident".

There were 12 Royal Air Force personnel, a Royal marine and an army soldier, the ministry said on board the royal air force Nimrod reconnaissance aircraft.

The crash happened at around 4pm local time (1230 GMT), about 20km west of Kandahar.

Rising death toll

The crash brings the number of British armed forces personnel killed in Afghanistan since the start of operations against the Taliban to 36.

The latest deaths come just a day after a Fijian British Army soldier died fighting insurgents loyal to the deposed Taliban regime in the volatile southern Helmand province.

Major Scott Lundy, spokesman for the international security assistance force in Afghanistan, said "there was no indication of an enemy attack" on the aircraft.

"Everyone will understand that our first priority is to inform  and support the families of those on board"

Des Browne
British defence minister

"I know that the people of Britain will join me in sending our deep condolences to the loved ones of those who have lost their lives, and to the British military as it deals with the loss of friends and comrades," Browne said.

The British ministry of defence has set up a special incident line for concerned family members. Browne stressed it was "not the time for speculation" and work was ongoing to secure the crash site.

The steadily rising death toll has left some media observers are wondering how much  longer Britain could tolerate such losses.

Stretched

With a sizeable British presence in Iraq, accusations - denied  by the government and military top brass - have mounted in recent  months that troops are overstretched and ill-equipped.

"Everyone will understand that our first priority is to inform  and support the families of those on board," Browne said.

"I can say, however, at this stage all the indications are that this was a terrible accident and not the result of hostile action."

Britain has nearly 4,000 troops in Helmand as part of a Nato-led  force working to bring security to the strife-torn southern province.

Dutch soldier hurt

"I can say, however, at this stage all the indications are that this was a terrible accident and not the result of hostile action."

Des Browne
British defence minister

In a separate incident, a Dutch soldier serving with the Nato force in southeastern Afghanistan was wounded in an  attack, the Dutch defence ministry said on Saturday.

A Dutch convoy stationed in Oruzgan province was attacked by snipers leading to the wounding of the driver of the convoy's first vehicle, it said in a written statement.

Fighting ensued, probably causing injuries among the attackers, it added.

The wounded Dutch soldier underwent surgery and his condition is  not considered life-threatening.