NATO 'friendly' strike kills Afghan security personnel

Nov 30, -0001
KABUL: Seven Afghan security personnel were killed in a mis-targeted NATO air strike in the remote northwest, the defence ministry said Saturday, signalling further trouble for a fraying Western military effort.

The "friendly fire" incident occurred when NATO and Afghan forces searching for two missing American paratroopers in the barren, rugged area clashed with the Taliban.

"Due to a NATO forces air strike on November 6 in Badghis province, seven Afghan security personnel (both army and national police) were martyred and also some were wounded," the ministry said in a statement.

NATO's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) said that more than 25 ISAF and Afghan security personnel were killed or wounded during the joint operation.

It said it was investigating whether some of those casualties resulted from friendly fire. However, one Western military official, speaking on condition of anonymity, confirmed to AFP that it appeared to be a "blue-on-blue incident" -- a military term for friendly fire -- with "a huge number of casualties".

Afghan defence ministry spokesman Mohammad Zahir Azimi told AFP there was no doubt Afghan personnel had been killed and injured by their international partners.

"It was an erroneous air strike which caused casualties to friendly forces," he said.

ISAF said that together with Afghan authorities, it was "currently investigating whether some of the casualties were caused by ISAF close air support."

ISAF said its personnel and Afghan forces had been "engaged by enemy forces," meaning the Taliban, while searching for the two soldiers who went missing Wednesday while trying to recover airdropped supplies from a river.

ISAF said the 25 were "killed or wounded during a joint operation that involved multiple engagements over several hours." It added that four Afghan soldiers and three police were killed. Earlier it said five of the wounded were US soldiers.

Afghan police said the two missing paratroopers had drowned trying to retrieve food cartons from a river.

More than 100,000 troops under NATO and US command are in Afghanistan fighting a Taliban insurgency now at its deadliest in the eight years since US-led troops toppled the Islamist regime.

US President Barack Obama is considering a request from military commanders to boost troop numbers by up to 40,000, a decision not likely to be made public for a number of weeks.

Last week, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner hinted at the strains on the alliance, hitting out at the United States and Germany for failing to coordinate on NATO policy and branding Afghan President Hamid Karzai "corrupt".

"What is the goal? What is the road? And in the name of what?" Kouchner was quoted by The New York Times as saying. "Where are the Americans? It begins to be a problem.... We need to talk to each other as allies."

The use of air power in Afghanistan has been controversial, with civilian casualties sparking public anger and prompting Karzai to demand a halt to air strikes earlier this year.

On Friday, German Defence Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg said mistakes had been made in a German-ordered air raid in September carried out by US aircraft, which killed as many as 142 people.

Separately, the Afghan army said a five-day operation that ended on Friday in the northern province of Kunduz had resulted in the deaths of 133 militants.

The Afghan army also said at least three Afghan soldiers and more than a dozen Taliban militants were killed on Saturday in southern Afghanistan.

An Afghan army convoy was struck by a roadside bomb in Girishk district of Helmand province killing three Afghan soldiers, southern military corps commander General Shair Mohammad Zazai told AFP.

In neighbouring Zabul province a joint operation by Afghan and foreign forces in Naw Bahar district killed 18 Taliban fighters, he said. AGENCIES







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