International strikes kill nine Afghan police


Herat, Afghanistan : Nine policemen were killed in Afghanistan Sunday in international military air strikes called in when police and troops clashed after mistaking each other for Taliban, authorities said.

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The fighting erupted at about 1:30 am when Afghan and international soldiers moved into a district without informing police, who thought they were militants, the deputy governor of southwestern Farah province said.

“An engagement took place, each side thinking the other was the Taliban,” Mohammad Younus Rasouli told AFP.

The troops called for air support and military attack aircraft arrived and bombed a police post, he said. “Nine police were killed and five wounded,” he said.

The US-led coalition, helping the government fight Taliban and other extremists, said the combined Afghan and US patrol had been acting in self-defence after coming under attack from a “non-uniformed hostile force.”

“The combined patrol signalled their status as coalition forces, but continued to receive fire,” it said in a statement. “Coalition forces then returned small arms fire and engaged the enemy with precision close air support,” it said.

The coalition said it was trying to determine how many policemen had died. Rasouli said the police chief of Farah’s Anar Dara district, on the border with Iran, was among the wounded and was in a serious condition.

The “friendly fire” incident came as US presidential hopeful Barack Obama visited Afghanistan to assess international efforts against Al-Qaeda-linked extremist militants trying to overthrow the government.

There have been several such mistakes in Afghanistan’s complicated battleground, where many local and international security forces are involved in a growing fight against Taliban insurgents.

Earlier this month a British helicopter mistakenly opened fire on a group of British soldiers in Helmand province, injuring nine of them, three seriously, the defence ministry said.

In January nine Afghan policemen were killed in the central province of Ghazni by US-led soldiers hunting militants, Afghan officials said. NATO’s International Security Assistance Force said meanwhile its soldiers had killed four Afghan civilians by accident late Saturday when mortar rounds landed off-target in the eastern province of Paktika near Pakistan.

“An ISAF unit on a fire mission accidentally killed four civilians, with an unconfirmed further three deaths,” it said in a statement.

One of the mortars landed on a house, Afghan authorities in the area said. It was the latest in a series of incidents in which international soldiers have killed civilians, although more die in attacks by extremists including from the Taliban regime, removed from power in late 2001 in a US-led invasion.

The US-led coalition admitted last week that it had killed eight in an air strike targeting militants in Farah. Afghan officials said nine women and a boy had died. The coalition and ISAF are also investigating official reports that 64 civilians were killed in two strikes in northeastern Afghanistan this month.

One hit a wedding party, killing 47 people including the bride, an investigation appointed by President Hamid Karzai found.

In other violence Sunday, three children were killed in the southern province of Helmand when a bomb blew up a minivan, provincial police chief Mohammad Hussien Andiwal said.

Two children and two adults were wounded. The Afghan police and defence ministry announced meanwhile that about 15 Taliban were killed in various incidents in southern Afghanistan.