16 Afghan policemen killed in US airstrike
The strike hit a compound in Gereshk district in Helmand
Kandahar, Afghanistan - A US airstrike has killed 16 policemen in Afghanistan, officials said on Saturday, the latest setback to Washington’s efforts to bring peace to the war-torn country.
The incident took place in Helmand province on Friday as Afghan security forces attempted to clear a village of Taliban militants, Salam Afghan, a police spokesman, told AFP.
“In the strike, 16 Afghan policemen were killed including two commanders. Two other policemen were wounded,” he said.
The strike hit a compound in Gereshk district in Helmand, large parts of which are under Taliban control.
‘A US-supported (Afghan security) operation...resulted in the deaths of... friendly Afghan forces who were gathered in a compound’, NATO’s mission in Afghanistan said in a statement.
‘We would like to express our deepest condolences to the families affected by this unfortunate incident’, the statement said, adding there would be a probe into what happened.
An Interior Ministry spokesman, Najeeb Danish, said a ministry delegation had been sent to the area to investigate and help families of the victims.
Helmand for years was the centrepiece of the US and British military intervention in Afghanistan.
But the Taliban now effectively controls or contests ten of Helmand’s 14 districts, blighted by a huge opium harvest that helps fund the insurgency.
In April, some 300 US Marines returned to the province as embattled Afghan security forces struggle to beat back the resurgent Taliban.
The surge helped Afghan security forces, backed by US airstrikes, recapture Nawa district in Helmand six months ago.
The operation came as Pentagon chief Jim Mattis finalised plans to present a new Afghanistan strategy to President Donald Trump in a bid to reverse what US generals call a ‘stalemate’ at best.
In February, a US airstrike in Sangin killed at least 18 civilians, mostly women and children.
Last November 32 Afghan civilians were killed in a US airstrike in the northeastern province of Kunduz.
In October 2015, a US air strike hit a hospital run by Medecins Sans Frontieres, killing 42 people and sparking international outrage.
MSF reopens facility
Meanwhile, Medecins Sans Frontiers in Afghanistan on Saturday reopened a small medical clinic in northern Kunduz province where nearly two years ago a US airstrike destroyed their hospital, killing over 40.
The new facility, which has one doctor and five nurses, will only provide outpatient treatment of minor and chronic wounds and is not located at the site of the bombed hospital.
“We decided to restart medical activities in Kunduz, because the needs are big in the conflict context... and this clinic is the first step,” Silvia Dallatomasina, MSF head of programmes in Afghanistan told AFP.
The organisation stopped its activities in Kunduz after the October 2015 bombing that killed 42, including 24 patients and 14 staff, seeking assurances from the US and Afghan military, as well as the Taliban, to protect their facilities.
“We are finalising the commitment of every stakeholder of the conflict,” Dallatomasina said, adding she hoped work would start on a new trauma centre in Kunduz next year.
The 2015 bombing drew criticism from several quarters, with the United Nations human rights chief saying it could amount to a war crime.
An Afghan girl receives treatment at a hospital in Jalalabad Province on Friday after losing her lower legs in the explosion of a landmine planted by insurgents