The Washington Post, June 12, 2007

US-led forces kill seven Afghan police during a "friendly fighting"

The Associated Press has estimated more than 2,300 people have died this year in violence related to the insurgency.


ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — U.S.-led forces killed seven Afghan police officers and injured four others during a firefight that broke out after each side mistook the other for a group of insurgents, Afghan officials said Tuesday.

The battle, which occurred overnight Monday, began when Afghan police officers manning a checkpoint saw an approaching contingent of U.S. soldiers, misidentified them as Taliban and opened fire, said Karim Rahimi, spokesman for Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

The incident took place in a remote, mountainous area of Nangahar province in Afghanistan’s east. It ended with a U.S. helicopter attacking the police post.

a man shouts anti-American slogans after the attack
An Afghan man stands near two dead bodies of Afghan civilians who were killed by American soldiers after a car bombing on an American convoy in Barayekab in Nangarhar province eastern Afghanistan, Sunday, March 4, 2007. (AP Photo/Rahmat Gul)

Rahimi, speaking at a news conference in Kabul, blamed the incident on poor coordination between Afghan and international forces, a common concern of Karzai’s government.

U.S. military officials also said the Afghans opened fire first, though they gave a slightly different account. Maj. Chris Belcher said U.S. and Afghan army forces were on a mission to raid a suspected Taliban safe house when they were approached by a man in civilian clothes who was carrying a flashlight and a gun. Belcher said the man opened fire on the troops, and they began firing back.

Almost simultaneously, he said, the troops came under attack with small arms and rocket-propelled grenades from multiple directions. No U.S. troops or Afghan army forces were injured in the exchange, he said.

Belcher said the matter was under investigation.

"There was nothing during the firefight to indicate the opposing force was friendly," a U.S. military statement issued Tuesday night said. "The individuals who fired on coalition forces were not in uniform. Prior to the onset of the mission, coalition forces coordinated with officials to ensure no conflicting operations were occurring in that area."

News of the incident came as the International Committee of the Red Cross called on foreign troops in Afghanistan to do more to prevent civilian casualties, particularly in aerial operations. "We think clearly much more must be done to preserve and spare civilians when these types of military operations are under way," ICRC director of operations Pierre Kraehenbuehl, said at a news conference in Geneva.

The Associated Press has estimated more than 2,300 people have died this year in violence related to the insurgency. The death toll has spiked in recent weeks.

In Paris on Tuesday, Undersecretary of State R. Nicholas Burns accused Iran of aiding the insurgency in Afghanistan. Iran, Burns said, is funding insurgents across the Middle East, and "Iran is now even transferring arms to the Taliban in Afghanistan."

The Iranian government has denied that link, noting its Shiite-led government has a long history of enmity with the Sunni-led Taliban movement.

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