Afghan govt condemns NATO airstrike on soldiers

Afghan govt condemns NATO airstrike on soldiers

Four Afghan soldiers died in a clash Saturday with NATO forces who called in an airstrike after both sides mistook each other for the enemy, the Defense Ministry said, condemning the incident, AP reported.

The fighting began about 3 a.m. (2230 GMT Friday; 5:30 p.m. EDT Friday), in the eastern Wardak province, when a joint NATO-Afghan force traded fire with another Afghan unit already in the area. NATO troops then called in an airstrike, which killed four Afghan soldiers and wounded a number of others, the ministry said in a statement.

"Besides expressing heartfelt condolences to the families of the martyrs, the Afghan Defense Ministry is condemning this incident," it said, adding a delegation had been sent to the area to investigate. "After the investigation is completed, the Defense Ministry wants to bring those responsible to justice."

The statement confirmed earlier reports from provincial officials who said the fighting followed a misunderstanding as the joint force returned from an operation in the Sayed Abad district. Provincial spokesman Shahidullah Shahid said seven Afghan soldiers also had been wounded.

A NATO official said earlier that a gunbattle broke out when the joint force came under fire from unknown assailants and two Afghan soldiers had been killed, but it was not immediately clear who fired on them.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to release the information ahead of an official announcement, said an investigation was under way. The conflicting casualty tolls could not immediately be reconciled.

The shooting reflects the difficulty facing foreign troops as they increasingly partner with Afghan forces with a heightened emphasis on training and an influx of 37,000 more U.S. and allied troops.

It was the first apparent friendly fire incident since November, when eight Afghans - four soldiers, three policemen and an interpreter - were killed during close combat amid a search for a missing U.S. paratrooper.

Afghanistan's Defense Ministry said at the time that the deaths had been caused by "an air attack by NATO forces" during the fighting.

NATO forces also killed two civilians Friday after opening fire on a taxi as it sped toward a patrol and ignored warnings to stop in the Gelan district of Ghazni province, the international force said.

Elsewhere, joint NATO-Afghan forces came under attack in the northwestern province of Badghis at about 1 a.m. Saturday (2030 GMT Friday; 3:30 p.m. EDT Friday), prompting a gunbattle and an airstrike that killed eight militants, including a group leader, deputy provincial police chief Abdul Jabar Khan said.

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