By Ayaz Gul
A U.S. military airstrike in Afghanistan’s embattled southern Helmand province has mistakenly killed at least 17 government forces and wounded 14 others.
A local security official requesting anonymity Friday confirmed to VOA the casualty toll, saying the deadly strike occurred just outside the provincial capital of Lashkar Gah, where police forces were battling Taliban insurgents.
Attaullah Afghan, head of the provincial council in Helmand, told VOA a highway police battalion commander was also among those killed in the friendly fire.
Earlier, the Afghan Interior Ministry had said in a statement that the clashes killed at least eight policemen and injured 11 others, noting an investigation was underway to determine whether an airstrike or insurgents inflicted the casualties.
The ministry said the U.S.-led Resolute Support military coalition carried out the air raid at the request of Afghan partners to assist in fighting off a large-scale Taliban attack in Nahr-e-Saraj district and noted Afghan forces had also inflicted heavy casualties on the insurgents.
An American military spokesman, Col. Dave Butler, confirmed to VOA that Afghan forces requested “precision air support” during heavy fighting with the Taliban.
“They reported and confirmed the areas were clear of friendly forces. Unfortunately, they were not and a tragic accident resulted. Afghan Security Forces, as well as Taliban fighters, were killed in the strikes,” Butler said.
“We’re examining the miscommunication to ensure it is not repeated. We regret this tragic loss of life of our partners and are committed to improvement every day with every mission,” said the U.S. military spokesman.
A Taliban spokesman, Qari Yousaf Ahmadi, in a statement claimed that shortly after its fighters assaulted the police base west of Lashkar Gha, an American airstrike struck the installation, killing 35 security forces. Ahmadi said four senior Afghan police commanders were among the dead.
The insurgent group’s battlefield claims are often inflated.
The Taliban controls or influences most of the districts in the largest Afghan province where American military routinely conducts airstrikes in support of local forces battling to regain lost territory.
Stepped up insurgent attacks across the country during the past week have reportedly killed around 90 pro-government forces and dozens of Afghan civilians. The Taliban has also captured new territory, including Shamulzayi district in the troubled southern Zabul province.
The United States is holding direct negotiations with the Taliban to bring an end to the war and to try to encourage the insurgents to engage in an intra-Afghan peace dialogue. But Washington has so far not reported any significant progress toward ending years of hostilities in Afghanistan.