NATO attack mistakenly kills 5 Afghan soldiers
Communication failure possible
KABUL, Afghanistan — A botched NATO airstrike killed five Afghan soldiers after they were mistaken for insurgents early yesterday, 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. They came as three more American troops were reported killed in the south and Britain announced it would turn over control of a violence-plagued southern district to US forces.
US General David Petraeus, the newly arrived commander of international forces in Afghanistan, offered personal condolences to the families of the dead Afghan soldiers, a spokesman said.
A joint Afghan-international investigation was continuing into how the mistake happened, NATO spokesman Brigadier General 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.
Training and working with the Afghan army and police is one of the cornerstones of NATO’s counterinsurgency strategy, which the alliance is counting on to beat back insurgents’ gains, nearly nine years after US-backed forces toppled the Taliban’s hard-line Islamist regime.
The aim is to win over the population by limiting Afghan casualties while securing new areas, eventually turning control over to local army and police and allowing foreign troops to withdraw.
The allies set an interim goal of expanding the Afghan army from 85,000 in 2009 to 134,000 troops by 2011. So many Afghan security forces are being recruited and trained so fast that coordination is bound to lag behind, Afghan analyst Haroun Mir said.
Yesterday’s airstrike is unlikely to damage NATO’s relations in Afghanistan as much as unintended civilian deaths do, said Mir, director of the Afghan Center for Research and Policy studies. That’s because soldiers understand that “friendly fire’’ is an inevitable part of war, he said.
The Afghan soldiers were launching an ambush before dawn against insurgents, who were reportedly on the move, when NATO aircraft began firing on them without warning, said General Mohammad Zahir Azimi, Afghan Defense Ministry spokesman.
Five Afghan soldiers died and two were wounded in the airstrike in Ghazni’s Andar district, he said.
Violence has been increasing across Afghanistan, coinciding with the arrival of thousands of American soldiers for a new push to try to establish Afghan government control in the south, the Taliban’s strongest area of influence.
NATO said three American troops were killed by a roadside bomb in the south Tuesday. It did not identify them or give any other details.
Britain said it will withdraw its troops from the Sangin valley in Helmand province, which has been the deadliest area for British forces, accounting for 99 of its 312 soldiers killed since 2001.
Britain’s military said US forces would move into Sangin in October. Britain has about 10,000 troops in Afghanistan, most based in Helmand.