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Afghans say 20 died in NATO airstrike
U.S. says its troops were attacked, cites fewer casualties

By Joshua Partlow and Javed Hamdard
Sunday, November 8, 2009

KABUL -- Afghan officials said Saturday that a NATO airstrike had inadvertently killed several Afghan soldiers and policemen a day earlier in northwestern Afghanistan.

The airstrike took place amid fighting in Badghis province as Afghan and U.S. troops were looking for two American paratroopers who disappeared in the area Wednesday.

The U.S. military said the soldiers on the search operation came under an attack that killed four Afghan soldiers and two policemen and wounded five American and 17 Afghan troops.

Afghan officials said the NATO airstrike hit a coalition base in the area or hit near it. The district's mayor, Abdul Shukor, put the death toll at 20 -- six Afghan soldiers, two policemen and 12 civilians. Shukor described the bombing site as a military checkpoint near a warehouse.

A NATO statement said authorities were investigating whether "close air support" caused some of the casualties. A U.S. military spokesman, Lt. Col. Todd Vician, said Saturday that the casualties resulted from a "hostile engagement, not an accident." He said he had no reports of civilian casualties in the area.

The Taliban said earlier that the two missing soldiers had drowned and that it had found the bodies. A parliament member from Badghis, Amir Tawakal, said the soldiers drowned while fishing. U.S. officials did not confirm whether the soldiers had died.

Vician said that he did not know whether the two 82nd Airborne Division paratroopers were in vehicles when they disappeared but that he thought they were part of a group.

Reports of missing U.S. soldiers are rare in Afghanistan and Iraq and generally prompt extensive search-and-rescue efforts.

An American soldier, Pfc. Bowe R. Bergdahl, disappeared in eastern Afghanistan in June. He was captured by the Taliban and remains in captivity.

Hamdard is a special correspondent.

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