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21 Jul, 2017 16:34

Over a dozen Afghan forces killed in US ‘friendly fire’ airstrike – police

Up to 16 Afghan security forces servicemen have been killed in a US airstrike in Afghanistan, according to local police spokesman Salam Afghan. Washington says the incident was a case of friendly fire.

“In the strike, 16 Afghan policemen were killed including two commanders. Two other policemen were wounded,” Salam Afghan told AFP.

Omar Zwak, spokesman for the governor of Helmand Province, also confirmed the death toll to the news agency.

The friendly-fire incident occurred in Afghanistan’s Helmand Province late on Friday afternoon, the US military said in a statement.

“During a US supported ANDSF [Afghan National Defense and Security Forces] operation, aerial fires resulted in the deaths of the friendly Afghan forces who were gathered in a compound,” the statement reads.

The US military has notified the Afghan authorities and launched an investigation to “determine the specific circumstances that led to this incident.”

Washington hasn't yet confirmed the number of casualties.

The US and coalition forces have recently intensified their air operations in the country, dropping more munitions during the first half of 2017 than in all of the previous year.

In 2017, 1,634 munitions have been released in more than 2,000 combat sorties so far, according to figures disclosed by the US Air Force. Levels of military activity have reached those of the first half of 2012, which was the most “prolific” year for the US and its allies in Afghanistan.

According to former Pentagon official Michael Maloof, this case of friendly fire in Afghanistan and other such incidents are the result of a deeply flawed US strategy in the country.

“When you’re bombing from on high or sending in drones, they are inevitably going to be some civilian casualties involved because it's not as precise as having people on the ground,” Maloof told RT.

“If you’re going to take the military approach, that’s what you need – you need people on the ground that can guide the forces in the air to be accurate.”

“We don’t have that, and given the number of US troops that are in highly remote areas, they are sparsely spread out and sprinkled unlike the way they were before and their primary goal now is to contain and secure Kabul, the capital, which itself is continuously under attack, whether it’s by the Taliban or even ISIS (Islamic State). And so, it’s clear to me, there needs to be a new direction, a new strategy that needs to be undertaken, because what is happening right now is just not working.”

The surge in airstrikes coincides with a spike in civilian casualties, according to the UN. Some 232 civilians have been killed in airstrikes so far this year, compared to the 162 in the same period in 2016. Roughly half of the civilian casualties were inflicted by the Afghan Air Force.

Intensified fighting has apparently led to a rise in friendly fire incidents, affecting both coalition and local Afghan forces. Last month, three Border Police agents were killed when a US military aircraft “returned fire” during a joint operation by Afghan and American special forces. In April, two US servicemen were killed in a suspected friendly fire incident. The military was not able to immediately determine whether the firing was initiated by US or Afghani forces and launched an investigation into the incident.