US airstrike in Helmand kills Afghan police in friendly-fire incident | News | DW | 22.07.2017
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US airstrike in Helmand kills Afghan police in friendly-fire incident

At least 16 Afghan police officers have been killed in friendly fire following a botched US airstrike over Helmand. Afghan forces have been waging deadly battles to retake the Taliban-held controlled province.

The Helmand governor's office on Saturday morning confirmed the death toll following an inspection of the struck compound in the Gereshk District.

Two more Afghan officers were wounded in Friday's strike.

Read more: The Afghan security problem

NATO's mission in Afghanistan issued a statement, saying: "During a US-supported (Afghan security) operation, aerial fires resulted in the deaths of the friendly Afghan forces who were gathered in a compound."

"We would like to express our deepest condolences to the families affected by this unfortunate incident," the statement said, adding there would be a probe into the friendly-fire incident.

The Pentagon had already confirmed the errant airstrike, but was unable to confirm the number of casualties. 

According to Helmand police chief Abdul Ghafar Safi, the dead were police officers operating alongside Afghan military forces in Helmand, an area that has been one of the focal points in Afghanistan's 16-year-long war. Two years ago, as US and NATO troops begun pulling out of the country, a resurgent Taliban was able to recapture large parts of the province.

This has prompted many Western forces to reverse their decision to withdraw and led Afghan forces, propped up by NATO troops, to wage long and fierce battles.

Read more: US intelligence: Afghanistan will 'almost certainly' deteriorate

Helmand carries a particularly strategic importance for each side, namely for its dams and power grids, but also for its opium production, which helps finance the insurgency. The Taliban currently controls roughly 80 percent of the province.

Rising number of US airstrikes

The Taliban's resurgence has also been met by a large uptick in the number of US airstrikes over Afghanistan. Figures released this week showed that the US had dropped more bombs in the year to June than during the whole of 2016. In just the past five days, US forces carried out 52 airstrikes in Helmand.

While the strikes have managed to push back the Taliban, at least to a degree, civilian casualties have also risen. United Nations figures revealed that the number of civilians killed or injured in airstrikes in the first six months of 2017 had increased by 43 percent when compared to the same period last year.

The US is the only foreign force conducting airstrikes in Afghanistan.

As the fighting intensifies, the administration of President Donald Trump is weighing whether to raise the US troop count, which currently stands at around 9,000, in Afghanistan.

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dm/tj (AP, AFP, dpa)

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