5 Afghan soldiers killed by mistake in NATO air attack
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.