A U.S. airstrike killed at least eight policemen in Afghanistan’s Helmand province, a government official said Friday, the latest casualties from a rise in air and ground operations against the Taliban.
An American military spokesperson called the deaths a “tragic accident” that occurred after Afghan security forces requested U.S. air support for an operation against the Taliban.
Omar Zwak, a spokesperson for Helmand’s governor, said at least eight policemen were killed in the strike conducted by U.S. forces on Thursday night.
Two senior officers were among the eight officers killed. Another 11 policemen were wounded in a firefight with Taliban insurgents during the same security operation.
Col. David Butler, of U.S. Forces- Afghanistan, said that during heavy fighting with the Taliban near the provincial capital Lashkar Gah, the Afghan National DefenCe Security Forces requested the U.S. precision air support.
“We deconflicted the requested support with an Afghan co-ordination unit to ensure the areas were clear of friendly forces. They [Afghan forces] reported and confirmed the areas were clear of friendly forces,” said Butler.
“Unfortunately, they were not and a tragic accident resulted. Afghan security forces as well as Taliban fighters were killed in the strikes.”
Helmand a Taliban hotspot
Afghanistan’s largest private TV station, Tolo News, reported 17 police officers were killed and 11 others wounded.
American forces regularly provide support to Afghan troops in operations against the Taliban.
The U.S. official said there was no breakdown of the toll of people killed by the Taliban and in the airstrike.
“We are examining the miscommunication to ensure it is not repeated and regret this tragic loss of life of our partners and are committed to improvement every day with every mission,” said Butler.
Helmand Gov. Mohammad Yasin and government officials in Kabul said the airstrike was being investigated. They did not give details of the incident.
The Taliban insurgents control or contest more than half of Helmand’s districts and regularly deliver heavy blows to Afghan forces, who have been struggling to hold off insurgents across the country. Fighting has accelerated during a series of peace talks aimed at ending more than 17 years of war.
In March, Taliban fighters attempted to overrun a U.S.-Afghan base in Helmand before they were repelled.
The Taliban has so far rejected ceasefire proposals, saying U.S. and NATO troops must first withdraw from Afghanistan.