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Afghanistan police killed in ‘friendly fire’ US airstrike in Helmand province

More than a dozen Afghan police officers were killed in an airstrike carried out by U.S. forces in the south of the country, media and the Afghan interior ministry said on Friday, May 17.

The May 16 airstrike, which targeted Taliban fighters, instead killed 17 police officers and wounded 11 others in Helmand province, Tolo News reported on Friday.

The report said the police officers were members of the 601 highway battalion.

RFE/RL’s Radio Free Afghanistan put the number of dead at nine, reporting that the strike took place in Nahr-e Saraj district outside the provincial capital Lashkar Gah.

“During heavy fighting with the Taliban in Lashkar Gah in Helmand province, our Afghan National Defense and security partners requested precision air support,” U.S. Forces – Afghanistan spokesperson Colonel Dave Butler told The Defense Post.

“We support our Afghan security partners, we deconflicted the requested support with an Afghan coordination unit to ensure the areas were clear of friendly forces. They reported and confirmed the areas were clear of friendly forces. Unfortunately, they were not and a tragic accident resulted.”

“Afghan Security Forces as well as Taliban fighters were killed in the strikes. We’re examining the miscommunication to ensure it is not repeated. We regret this tragic loss of life of our partners and are committed to improvement every day with every mission,” Butler said.

The Afghan interior ministry had earlier said it was investigating whether the officers were killed in an airstrike or in clashes with the Taliban.

The Taliban control or contest more than half of Helmand’s districts and regularly deliver heavy blows to Afghan forces, who have been struggling to hold off insurgents across the country since taking the lead from NATO forces in late 2014.

In March, Taliban fighters attempted to overrun a U.S.-Afghan base in Helmand before they were repelled in an hours-long firefight. Six Afghan soldiers were killed in the assault and the insurgents were initially able to gain access to the Shorab base before being stopped by security forces.

The ‘weak link’: Afghan Police bear the brunt of insecurity in Afghanistan

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