Afghans probe US mistaken airstrike of Afghan army base

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) – Authorities are investigating an errant United States (US) bombing of an Afghan military base in the country’s south that killed at least five Afghan troops, a lawmaker said yesterday.

The soldiers were killed by friendly fire on Wednesday in what was supposed to be a precision airstrike by US forces supporting Afghan soldiers battling insurgents near the city of Tarin Kot in Uruzgan province.

The Defence Ministry earlier said the fatalities were the result of a miscommunication between Afghan troops on the ground and forces in the air, without providing details.

Lawmaker Obaidullah Barikzai from Uruzgan province told The Associated Press that Afghan soldiers inside the base in Tarin Kot believed a darkened convoy approaching the base was the Taleban – not US and Afghan forces – and opened fire, invoking a blistering retaliation.

The Taleban often travel in convoys with no vehicle lights on, Barikzai said.

A US airstrike was called in to aid the under-fire convoy, he added. It hit the Afghan army base, barely four kilometres from the governor’s house and the shootout continued for hours as residents hunkered inside their homes.

The US military said on Wednesday it responded to incoming fire on Afghan and US forces on the ground and attempted to come to their defence by conducting a precision airstrike.

American soldiers wait on the tarmac in Logar province, Afghanistan on November 30, 2017. The longest direct talks ever held between the United States and the Taleban concluded this week with both sides citing progress toward ending the 17-year war, but many questions remain unanswered. – AP

“We are operating in a complex environment where enemy fighters do not wear uniforms and use stolen military vehicles to attack government forces,” said the US mission spokesman Bob Purtiman.

Barikzai said many of the wounded in the deadly incident were in critical condition but did not provide details.

In other developments, the Taleban slammed the US State Department’s 2018 human rights report, released on Wednesday, for singling out the Taleban for attacks against civilians. The report also took note of what it said were extrajudicial killings by Afghan security forces as well as the Kabul government’s rampant corruption.

“The US is an occupier country directly involved in crimes against humanity,” said Taleban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid. “The show of concern and sadness about human rights by such a criminal state is preposterous and comical.”

Despite intensified negotiations between the US and the Taleban to end the 17-year was in Afghanistan, the insurgents have been carrying out near-daily attacks across the country, mainly targetting the government and security forces and causing staggering casualties.

Meanwhile, in the capital of northern Balkh province, shops and businesses were closed in a city-wide strike to protest the appointment of a new provincial police chief over the objections of a former governor and powerful warlord.

The incumbent provincial police chief, General Akram Sammeh, said his replacement, Abdul Raqib Mubarez, landed at the airport in Mazar-e-Sharif yesterday but the police were blocking him from heading into the city to take up his post.

The development threatens to escalate into an all-out feud between Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and Atta Mohammed Nur, a powerful warlord who holds sway over Balkh province where Mazar-e-Sharif is the provincial capital.