5 Afghan sol­diers killed by mis­take in NATO air at­tack

Austin American-Statesman - - THURSDAYBRIEFING - By Rahim Faiez and Kay John­son

KABUL, Afghanistan — A botched NATO airstrike killed five Afghan sol­diers af­ter they were mis­taken for in­sur­gents early Wed­nes­day, high­light­ing con­tin­ued weak co­or­di­na­tion be­tween in­ter­na­tional troops and the lo­cal se­cu­rity forces they are striv­ing to build.

An Afghan de­fense of­fi­cial con­demned the friendly fire deaths in the east­ern prov­ince of Ghazni.

The deaths came as three more Amer­i­can troops were re­ported killed by a road­side bomb in south­ern Afghanistan, and Bri­tain an­nounced it would turn over con­trol of a vi­o­lence-plagued south­ern district to U.S. forces.

U.S. Gen. David Pe­traeus, the newly ar­rived top com­man­der in Afghanistan, is­sued per­sonal con­do­lences to the fam­i­lies of the dead Afghan sol­diers.

A joint Afghan-NATO in­ves­ti­ga­tion was con­tin­u­ing into how the mis­take hap­pened, NATO spokesman Brig. Gen. Josef Blotz said.

“We were ob­vi­ously not ab­so­lutely clear whether there were Afghan na­tional se­cu­rity forces in the area,” Blotz said, sug­gest­ing there was a fail­ure in com­mu­ni­ca­tion.

NATO said in a state­ment that one of its pa­trols in the area mis­took the Afghan sol­diers for in­sur­gents.

Train­ing up and co­or­di­nat­ing with the Afghan army and po­lice is one of the corner- stones of NATO’s coun­terin­sur­gency strat­egy.

So many Afghan se­cu­rity forces are be­ing re­cruited and trained so fast — the al­lies set an in­terim goal of ex­pand­ing the Afghan army from 85,000 in 2009 to 134,000 troops by 2011 — that co­or­di­na­tion is bound to lag be­hind, Afghan an­a­lyst Haroun Mir said.

Wed­nes­day’s airstrike is un­likely to dam­age NATO re­la­tions as much as un­in­tended civil­ian deaths do, said Mir, di­rec­tor of the Afghan Cen­ter for Re­search and Pol­icy stud­ies, be­cause sol­diers un­der­stand that friendly fire is an in­evitable part of war.

The slain Afghan sol­diers were launch­ing an am­bush in Ghazni be­fore dawn Wed­nes­day against in­sur­gents, when NATO air­craft be­gan fir­ing on them with­out warn­ing, Afghan De­fense Min­istry spokesman Gen. Mo­ham­mad Zahir Az­imi said.

“This is not the first time such an in­ci­dent has hap­pened, but we wish that at least this would be the last one,” Az­imi said.

Also Wed­nes­day, Bri­tain an­nounced that it will with­draw its troops from San­gin Val­ley in Hel­mand prov­ince, turn­ing over re­spon­si­bil­ity to U.S. Marines. The val­ley has been the dead­li­est area in the Afghan war for Bri­tish forces, ac­count­ing for 99 of its 312 sol­diers killed since 2001.

The move will con­cen­trate Bri­tish forces “where we need them most,” said Lt. Gen. David Ro­driguez, the No. 2 U.S. gen­eral in Afghanistan.

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