Nine Afghan soldiers were killed and four others were injured by a U.S. airstrike on an Afghan army checkpoint Wednesday in an apparent friendly fire incident in eastern Afghanistan, according to Afghan and U.S. military officials.
The predawn airstrike occurred after a convoy of coalition troops came under fire as they returned to their base in Khost province, according to a statement released by the U.S. military. Coalition soldiers called for air support after exchanging fire with Afghan troops near an Afghan army checkpoint in the Sayed Kheil area in what military officials said could be “a case of mistaken identity on both sides.”
U.S. military officials did not release the nationalities of the coalition soldiers involved in the incident. But the majority of coalition forces based in eastern Afghanistan are U.S. soldiers.
Arsallah Jamal, governor of Khost province, said coalition and Afghan troops had been engaged in operations in the area for about 10 days before the strike occurred. Jamal said the army checkpoint was relatively new but was well known and on a main road.
“They knew it was there. They made a mistake,” Jamal said.
Lt. Muhammed Gul, a spokesman for the Afghan army division based in Paktia province, said Afghan troops were in the midst of an operation focused on securing a stretch of highway between Khost and Paktia province to the west. Afghan soldiers had recently set up the checkpoint as part of the operation, Gul said. Gul said the Afghan Ministry of Defense and U.S. military officials are investigating the incident.
The apparent mistaken U.S.-led airstrike comes on the heels of a series of errant air support operations that have stirred controversy in Afghanistan in recent months. On Monday, NATO officials said a joint investigation with the Afghan Ministry of Defense determined that an airstrike on a Taliban compound in southern Helmand province last week killed a number of civilians, including several women and children. NATO officials said coalition troops called for air support after they came under heavy fire near the town of Nad Ali. NATO officials did not release the number of civilians killed, but Afghan government officials said they believed at least 18 civilians were killed.
NATO and U.S. forces have recently been under pressure from the Afghan government of President Hamid Karzai to curtail the use of airstrikes during their operations. Karzai called for a review of foreign military conduct and responsibilities in the country after United Nations and Afghan officials concluded that an Aug. 22 strike in the western town of Azizabad killed up to 90 civilians. U.S. military officials initially denied those reports, but a second investigation concluded that at least 30 civilians, including women and children, were killed in the Azizabad airstrike.