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In southern Afghanistan, American airstrikes kill up to 18 police officers




Afghan security officials are patrolling in Helmand province, Afghanistan, on May 17, after US air strikes have killed 18 Afghan police officers. (Watan Yar / EPA-EFE / REX / Shutterstock)

A number of US airstrikes in Afghanistan killed as many as 18 Afghan police officers late on Thursday, under heavy combat with Taliban forces near the capital of Helmand province, Afghan officials and provincial leaders said Friday.

U.S. Military officials said here that the air currents in what they described as a "tragic accident" killed both Afghan security forces and Taliban warriors, but they did not say how many from each side died.

A spokesman for the US military advisory mission here said then colleague Dave Butler in a statement that Afghan security officials requested "precision air support" during heavy battles and that US military personnel had worked with Afghan coordinators. The coordinators "confirmed that the areas were free from friendly forces," he said. "Unfortunately, they were not, and a tragic accident occurred."

U.S. officials "investigate miscommunication to make sure it is not repeated," butler said. "We regret this partner's tragic loss of life."

Afghan officials in Kabul and Helmand provided conflicting information on the number of deaths and said that between eight and 18 officers were killed and 14 others were injured. They said the incident, which took place during a war on the Kabul-Kandahar highway, was investigated.

The Taliban said in a statement that US forces were behind the strikes, but a spokesman for Helmand Governor Omar Zwak said it was not clear whether Afghan or foreign forces had led them out.

The incident took place during a period of prolonged and widespread struggle between Taliban warriors and US-backed Afghan forces, which have gone on for months and caused huge losses among both Afghan troops and civilians.

The Taliban launched its annual spring movement in March and has continued aggressive attacks since last week, the start of Ramadan, the Muslim holy month with fasting and prayer. The Taliban surplus is seen as a means of gaining leverage in ongoing peace negotiations with US officials.

The deadly bombing, although a relatively rare occurrence in the conflict years here, has a striking resemblance to a recent situation in southern Uruzgan province in March, where at least five Afghan soldiers were killed and 10 wounded in airstrikes by US forces.

In that case, Afghan defense officials said the soldiers had patrolled near a checkpoint when they came under fire. "The attack was caused by lack of proper coordination," a defense chief told Reuters news agency at that time.

In a statement on the March attacks, the US military said its forces had carried out "precision self-defense disturbances on people fired at Afghan and US forces" who carried out a land operation near an Afghan military control site.

A much fatal event, which found more than 40 civilian lives, took place in October 2015 in northern Kunduz city, where the Taliban insurgents were undergoing a tremendous blow to control the area. An American AC-130 gunship attacked a hospital run by Doctors Without Borders charity and killed 42 people after receiving confused or unclear information from Afghan Earth Forces about the correct goal.

The incident provoked an angry scream from the Afghan public and led to a major investigation of US military officials. Since then, US military commissioners have made repeated efforts to improve the battlefield and air coordination with their Afghan counterparts.

Sharif Hassan and Sayed Salahuddin contributed to this report.


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