U.S. Troops Mistakenly Kill Six Afghan Policemen

By Candace Rondeaux
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, December 11, 2008

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan, Dec. 10 -- U.S. Special Forces troops in southeastern Afghanistan killed six Afghan policemen and wounded 13 Wednesday in an incident that Afghan and U.S. officials said was a case of mistaken identity.

The "friendly fire" incident occurred about midnight when troops who were engaged in an operation in the city of Qalat, in Zabol province, came face to face with a group of what they thought were Taliban insurgents, said Gen. Mohammad Yacoub Zabuli, a provincial police official. According to Zabuli and a U.S. military statement, there was a brief exchange of gunfire before the U.S. troops realized that the men firing on them were Afghan police.

Zabuli said that the Afghan policemen opened fire, thinking they were under attack from insurgents. U.S. forces then called for air support and fired a missile at the area, he said.

"Coalition forces deeply regret the incident of mistaken fire," Col. Jerry O'Hara, a U.S. military spokesman, said in a statement released Wednesday. "Initial reports indicate this was a tragic case of mistaken identity on both parts."

An armed insurgent who had barricaded himself inside a building in the area was also killed during the operation, and another insurgent was detained, according to the statement.

The U.S. military said the target of Wednesday's raid was an insurgent commander suspected of being behind repeated attacks on Afghanistan's main highway. It was not clear if the commander was killed in the operation.

U.S. troops have been involved in several "friendly fire" incidents with Afghan security forces this year, including one this summer that killed nine Afghan police officers. Afghan officials have decried what they call a lack of coordination between U.S.-led coalition troops and Afghan security forces.

"We're really concerned about these mistaken identity cases," Zabuli said. "We want the U.S. forces to stop these kinds of incidents from happening."

Zabuli said a joint delegation of officials from the U.S. military and the Afghan Defense and Interior ministries had been sent to the province to investigate the incident.

Special correspondent Javed Hamdard in Kabul contributed to this report.

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