US 'friendly fire' kills eight Afghan policemen

A US air raid targeted Afghan police officers who were combatting the Taliban, the first apparent “friendly fire” incident since US forces were given greater powers to attack militants.

Photo by: Reuters (Archive)
Photo by: Reuters (Archive)

A file photo of Afghan policemen at the site of an attack in Kabul on May 14, 2015.

A US air raid has killed eight Afghan policemen who were battling the Taliban, officials said Monday, the first apparent "friendly fire" incident since American forces were given greater powers to target Taliban militants.

The incident took place on Sunday in the Tali area of the Uruzgan province.

The Taliban recently attempted to overrun the provincial capital Tarin Kot in a major security breach.

"The first air strike killed one policeman. When other policemen came to help, they came under a second air strike, killing seven of them," Rahimullah Khan, highway police commander in the southern province, told AFP.

An Afghan National Police (ANP) vehicle patrols in the Tarin Kot district of the southern province of Uruzgan on September 8, 2016. (AFP File Photo)

Mohammad Sediq, a policeman who survived the attack, said their forces were "engaged in close fighting" with the Taliban when they were bombed.

The NATO command centre in Kabul confirmed US warplanes had conducted an air strike in the area, but said they targeted individuals who came up against Afghan forces.

NATO spokesman Charles Cleveland in a statement said:

US forces conducted two air strikes against individuals firing on... our Afghan partners in Tarin Kot on 18 September.

"We don't have any further information on who those individuals might have been or why they were attacking (Afghan) forces. US, coalition, and Afghan forces have the right to self-defence, and in this case were responding to an immediate threat."

The policemen "were inside their checkpoint" when they were subjected to US bombardment, Mohammad Karim Khadimzai, the head of Uruzgan's provincial council, told AFP.

Civilian and military casualties caused by NATO forces have been one of the most contentious issues in the 15-year campaign against Taliban militants, drawing harsh public and government criticism.

In July of last year, a US air strike killed about 10 Afghan soldiers at an army checkpoint in the Logar province south of Kabul, one of the deadliest occurrences of "friendly fire" by foreign forces in recent years.

NATO officially ended its combat mission in December 2014.

However, US forces in June were given more power to strike at Taliban militants as President Barack Obama vowed the implementation of a more aggressive campaign.

The new authority gave the US-led NATO troops greater power to command air strikes in support of Afghan troops.

Earlier this month Afghan forces backed by US air strikes launched an offensive to get rid of Taliban militants encircling Tarin Kot.

Afghan forces repelled the attack hours later, supported by reinforcements.

The Taliban have in recent months stepped up their attacks in Uruzgan and neighbouring provinces in the south, including the Taliban heartland of Helmand.

Taliban militants briefly entered Uruzgan's capital city, Tarin Kot, in early September before being pushed back by security forces.

Uruzgan, a remote province with a huge opium industry, is one of the biggest flashpoints in the Taliban militancy that erupted after a US-led invasion brought down their regime in 2001.

TRTWorld and agencies