Five American soldiers were killed in southern Afghanistan in a rare friendly fire airstrike that hit a team of Afghan and US troops conducting a security operation ahead of Saturday’s presidential runoff election, the Washington Post reported Tuesday, citing US and Afghan officials.
American military officials said they were investigating Monday’s incident.
Initial investigation showed that the troops had been patrolling the Arghandab district and was preparing to leave the area by helicopter when it came under attack from militants firing rockets and small arms, provincial police chief Ghulam Sakhi Roghlewanai was quoted as saying.
The troops called in an airstrike, but ammunition dropped from a B-1B bomber appears to have killed the Americans, the report said. Two of the casualties were Special Operations troops.
“Investigators are looking into the likelihood that friendly fire was the cause,” Rear Adm. John Kirby, spokesman of the US Defense Department, said in a statement. “Our thoughts and prayers are with the families of these fallen.”
At a news conference Tuesday, Kirby confirmed the five US deaths but did not provide details about those killed. He said there were no reports of any US troops wounded in action.
Roghlewanai said one Afghan soldier was killed in the operation.
“There were no Taliban casualties from the airstrike, but we had killed many of them during the day’s operation,” he said.
A relatively small number of friendly fire incidents have occurred in the war, and Monday’s incident appeared to be among the deadliest involving US troops, the newspaper said.
As the end of the American combat mission in Afghanistan nears, US troops are doing far less fighting and conducting fewer patrols than in years past. But service members deployed in the southern and eastern regions continue to come under attack, the report said.
Washington sees the election on Saturday as a turning point in the war, but the Taliban has called the election a charade and has vowed to derail it with violence.
Last week, the leading candidate, former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah, narrowly escaped an assassination attempt, the report said.
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