U.S. kills 12 Afghan police in airstrike amid violent clashes with Taliban
The U.S. Department of Defense verified that the strike was friendly fire
An errant U.S. airstrike confirmed by the Pentagon killed 12 Afghan National Police officers and wounded two others, as another 11 police were killed and six wounded in clashes with the Taliban, Afghan officials said Saturday.
The death toll in Friday's airstrike was determined after a site inspection of the compound in the Gereshk district, said Helmand provincial police chief Abdul Ghafar Safi.
The United States in a statement confirmed that the airstrike on the Security Forces compound occurred during a U.S.-supported operation against Taliban insurgents in the area. In the statement, the U.S. offered its condolences to the families of the security forces who were killed.
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While much of Helmand province is under the control of Taliban, Afghan national security forces have been waging fierce battles to retake territory. NATO and U.S. troops are in Helmand to assist Afghan troops.
Safi told The Associated Press in a telephone interview that the dead were police officers who were operating with the army in the area. He said they had recaptured the post from the Taliban when the airstrike occurred. On Friday, the Helmand Gov. Hayatullah Hayat said it was believed the police officers were not in uniform, which may have resulted in mistakenly identifying them as Taliban fighters.
Among the Taliban fighters killed in fighting in Helmand's Gereshk district was Taliban leader Haibatullah Akhunzada's 25-year-old son Hafiz Abdur Rahman Khalid, according to Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid.
Mewanwhile, in northern Badakhshan province Gov. Ahmad Faisal Bigzad said Saturday that 11 police were killed and another six wounded during a roaring battle with Taliban insurgents in the remote Tagab region.
Bigzad said another 20 members of a local police force were missing following Friday's firefight. It wasn't immediately clear if they had been kidnapped or had escaped.
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The area in which the fighting occurred is tucked inside a mountainous region where access is restricted and telephone contact is unsteady.
In western Farah province, a ferocious gun battle between the Afghan army and Taliban insurgents left six Afghan soldiers dead and 12 Taliban killed, said Mohammad Naser Mehri, spokesman for the provincial governor.
The five-hour battle Friday occurred after Taliban insurgents stormed a compound of the Afghan National Security Force in Pusht Rod district, he said.
A Taliban statement meanwhile claimed a victory and said 16 Afghan soldiers were killed. Taliban have in the past exaggerated their successes and the remoteness of the area makes it near impossible to independently verify.
Elsewhere, in neighbouring Kandahar province, insurgents kidnapped upward of 60 people in several attacks on buses that took place over the last four days, Samim Khpolwak, provincial governor's spokesman said Saturday.
Seven passengers were killed, while another 20 people managed to escape, he said. The remaining 33 are still being held by insurgents.
Khpolwak said the buses were travelling from Kandahar's Shah Wali Kot District to neighboring Uruzgan province when they came under attack.
No one has claimed responsibility for the attacks, nor is it known whether any ransom demands have been made.
Afghanistan's Independent Human Rights Commission issued a statement condemning the attacks and warning they represented a human rights violation.