A US airstrike killed up to 10 Afghan soldiers on Monday at an army checkpoint in a Taliban-infested province south of Kabul, in one of the deadliest episodes of friendly fire from foreign forces in recent years. The early morning raid in the Baraki Barak district of Logar province comes as coalition forces increase air strikes on potential militant targets despite a drawdown of Nato forces after 13 years of war.
The bombing marked the second such incident in the area since last December when a Nato air strike killed five civilians and wounded six others.
“At 6:00 am today, two US helicopters attacked a checkpoint in Baraki Barak,” district governor Mohammad Rahim Amin told AFP. “The checkpoint caught fire... and 10 Afghan army soldiers were killed,” he added.
Civilian and military deaths in coalition airstrikes have been one of the most emotive and high-profile issues of the war, often provoking fury from the government.
Logar’s deputy police chief Mohammad Wara said 10 Afghan soldiers were killed and four others were wounded but provincial army commander Abdul Razid Safi said the attack resulted in eight fatalities.
American officials offered their condolences over the accident and put the death toll at seven. “We have initiated an investigation of this incident,” US military spokesman Wilson Shoffner said in a statement.
“Alongside our Afghan partners, we will complete a joint investigation in a transparent, timely and thorough manner,” the statement said.
President Ashraf Ghani urged coalition forces to take maximum precautions to prevent such incidents in the future.
District governor Amin accused US forces of recklessness, saying the targeted outpost was not a suspicious area. “The Afghan flag was waving at the checkpoint in Baraki Barak when the Americans launched their attack,” he said.
But the Afghan defence ministry in its statement said, “armed insurgents had opened fire on the coalition forces’ helicopters,” though it did not say if that had prompted the friendly fire.
Following the attack, an Afghan army convoy dispatched to the site was ambushed several times on its way by Taliban militants, but they managed to retrieve the bodies without any further casualties, Amin said.
Foreign forces are themselves also known to sometimes fall victim to friendly fire incidents. A Nato airstrike in June last year killed five US troops and an Afghan soldier in an accident during clashes with insurgents.
The incident could have been avoided if American forces had communicated properly and understood their aircraft’s capabilities, military investigators later said.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 21st, 2015.