A U.S.-led coalition airstrike hit an Afghan army checkpoint Wednesday, killing nine soldiers, Afghan officials said, and the American military acknowledged that its forces may have “mistakenly” killed allied troops.
The U.S. acknowledged that its forces “may have mistakenly killed and injured” Afghan soldiers in what may have been a case of mistaken identity “on both sides.” The deaths come as Afghan President Hamid Karzai presses international forces to avoid airstrikes in civilian areas.
Arsallah Jamal, the province’s governor, said the Afghan soldiers died at a fixed army checkpoint in a region where American and Afghan troops have been conducting operations for over a week. Gen. Mohammad Zahir Azimi, the Defense Ministry spokesman, confirmed nine soldiers died and three were wounded in the airstrike in the Sayed Kheil area of Khost province in eastern Afghanistan.
“As a Coalition forces convoy was returning from a previous operation, they were involved in multiple engagements,” a U.S. military statement said. “As a result of the engagements, ANA (Afghan army) soldiers were killed and injured.”
Col. Greg Julian, the chief spokesman for U.S. troops in Afghanistan, said American officials would meet with Afghan defense officials to “sort out the details.”
In June 2007, Afghan police mistook U.S. troops on a nighttime mission for Taliban fighters and opened fire on them, prompting U.S. forces to return fire and call in attack aircraft. Seven Afghan police were killed.
In the last month, uniformed Afghan police officers have twice opened fire on U.S. troops, killing two soldiers. The police officers were killed by U.S. soldiers returning fire, but the incidents raised fears that insurgents have infiltrated Afghanistan’s security forces as a cover to launch attacks.
In the country’s southern Uruzgan province, a two-day battle that ended early Wednesday killed 35 Taliban fighters and three Afghan police, said Juma Gul Himat, Uruzgan’s provincial police chief.
Himat said the battle was led by Afghan forces but also involved helicopter gunships. Afghan forces recovered 35 bodies from the battlefield, he said. Some 100 Taliban fighters were involved in the battle.
In other violence, U.S. troops killed seven militants and detained seven others in a series of operations throughout Afghanistan, the military said in a statement. Among the dead was a Taliban leader in Helmand province responsible for attacks on coalition forces and Afghan security checkpoints, the U.S. said.
More than 5,200 people — mostly militants — have died in insurgency related violence this year, according to an Associated Press count of figures from Western and Afghan officials.