Airstrike by U.S. kills nine Afghan po­lice­men

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - INTERNATIONAL - MAX BEARAK AND THOMAS GIB­BONS-NEFF In­for­ma­tion for this ar­ti­cle was con­trib­uted by Sayed Salahud­din of The Wash­ing­ton Post.

KABUL, Afghanistan — A U.S. airstrike killed at least nine “lo­cal se­cu­rity per­son­nel aligned with Afghan gov­ern­ment forces,” a spokesman for the U.S. mil­i­tary con­firmed late Fri­day.

U.S. forces ap­par­ently mis­took the po­lice for the Tal­iban mil­i­tants that both the U.S. and Afghan forces were fight­ing.

The airstrike took place in the Gereshk district of Hel­mand prov­ince, where U.S. and Afghan forces have been locked in fierce fight­ing with the Tal­iban. Lo­cal me­dia re­ports put the num­ber of dead at 17. A U.S. mil­i­tary state­ment said an in­ves­ti­ga­tion would be con­ducted “to de­ter­mine the spe­cific cir­cum­stances that led to this in­ci­dent.”

Hel­mand’s gov­er­nor, Hay­at­ul­lah Hayat, said two com­man­ders of the na­tional po­lice were among those killed and that many bod­ies were still un­der rub­ble, mak­ing an ex­act toll dif­fi­cult to de­ter­mine.

Hayat said the Tal­iban had re­cently seized a num­ber of po­lice posts and cap­tured Humvees sta­tioned there, mak­ing it eas­ier for aircraft to con­fuse the two groups.

“The po­lice had re­cap­tured a post from the en­emy, and it was hit by mis­take with the be­lief that the Tal­iban fighters were still dug in there af­ter they took the post on Thurs­day,” said Hayat, who was reached by phone. He said 70 Tal­iban fighters had also been killed in the of­fen­sive, which oc­curred about mid­day Fri­day.

A U.S. de­fense of­fi­cial, speak­ing on the con­di­tion of anonymity be­cause of­fi­cial de­tails about the strike had yet to be re­leased, said U.S. Marines in Hel­mand had helped co­or­di­nate the strike with Afghan se­cu­rity forces. The of­fi­cial said the area had re­cently been taken over by the Tal­iban and that their Afghan coun­ter­parts in­di­cated that the po­si­tions were not friendly or manned by gov­ern­ment forces.

When aircraft were over­head, they saw a group of peo­ple not wear­ing uni­forms and fir­ing in what ap­peared to be the wrong di­rec­tion, the of­fi­cial added.

The U.S. air war in Afghanistan has re­turned to a level of in­ten­sity not seen since the troop surge in 2012, when 80,000 U.S. forces were spread across the coun­try, con­duct­ing pa­trols and en­gag­ing the Tal­iban on a daily ba­sis.

Data re­leased this month by the Air Force show that as of June 30, U.S. and coali­tion aircraft had dropped or ex­pended 1,634 mu­ni­tions in Afghanistan dur­ing the first six months of 2017. By com­par­i­son, that fig­ure was 298 in 2015 and 545 in 2016.

The sharp up­ward trend is due in part to new pow­ers given to com­man­ders on the ground in June 2016 by then-Pres­i­dent Barack Obama. U.S. forces had pre­vi­ously only been able to con­duct airstrikes when troops, Afghan or Amer­i­can, were deemed to be di­rectly un­der threat.

U.S. Navy Capt. Bill Salvin, a spokesman for U.S. forces in Afghanistan, said this week that 70 per­cent of all airstrikes in the coun­try were di­rected against the Tal­iban, while about 20 per­cent were part of coun­tert­er­ror op­er­a­tions, such as go­ing af­ter the Is­lamic State’s Afghan af­fil­i­ate.

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