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U.S. forces kill 7 Afghan police in friendly fire exchange

U.S. troops killed seven Afghan police officers in a friendly fire exchange that erupted at nighttime when both sides mistook one another for a band of Taliban fighters, U.S. and Afghan officials said Tuesday.

U.S. troops killed seven Afghan police officers in a friendly fire exchange that erupted when both sides mistookone another for a band of Taliban fighters, U.S. and Afghan officials said Tuesday.

But it was still unclear which side opened fire first, as a U.S. military spokesman and Afghan police gave different accounts of the incident.

According to Maj. Chris Belcher, a spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition, it was Afghan police officers who misidentified and then ambushed a combined U.S.-Afghan force.

He said the force was in the process of swooping in on a suspected Taliban safe house early Tuesday in the eastern province of Nangarhar.

"Afghan and coalition forces took incoming fire and they responded to it," Belcher said, adding the forces also called in helicopter support. U.S. choppers later fired rockets at the police officers, which caused most of the casualties, said the commander at the police post, who goes only by the name Esanullah.

'Tragic incident'

Karim Rahimi, a spokesman for Afghan President Hamid Karzai, called the shootings a "tragic incident" and said police forces "were not aware of the coalition's operation."

Rahimi said police at the checkpoint "thought that they were the enemy, so police opened fire on the coalition, and then the coalition thought that the enemies were firing on them, so they returned fire back."

By the end, seven Afghan police officers were dead and four others wounded in the confusion.

Khan Mohammad, one of the policemen who was manning the post, offered another version of the events. He said thata U.S.convoy backed by helicopters approached the checkpoint and then fired, apparently ignoring protests and calls for them to stop.

"I thought they were Taliban, and we shouted at them to stop, but they came closer and they opened fire," Mohammad told the Associated Press. "I'm very angry. We are here to protect the Afghan government and help serve the Afghan government, but the Americans have come to kill us."

Another conflicting report from the Khogyani district said Taliban militants were, in fact, involved in the attack at one point. However, the commander of the police post, as well as the spokesman for the governor at Nangarhar province, dismissed that account.

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