United States airstrikes kill Afghan forces in 'friendly fire'

Afghan Border Police personnel walk through an outpost damaged in an airstrike in the Nad Ali district of Helmand province

Afghan Border Police personnel walk through an outpost damaged in an airstrike in the Nad Ali district of Helmand province

The insurgents control much of the province and threaten Lashkar Gah but government forces, backed by USA airstrikes, have launched an operation to drive them back from around the provincial capital.

"Two other policemen were wounded", Helmand police spokesman Salam Afghan told AFP.

The airstrike was carried out in Gereshk district's Parchaw village on Friday. Meanwhile, a police source said up to 30 had been killed.

A North Atlantic Treaty Organisation statement said: "During a US-supported (Afghan security) operation, aerial fires resulted in the deaths of the friendly Afghan forces who were gathered in a compound".

In February, a U.S. airstrike in Sangin killed at least 18 civilians, mostly women and children.

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Heavy fighting is going on in Helmand's Grishk and Garmsir districts after the Taliban lost control of the Nawa district to government forces over a year after first overrunning it. Taliban have in the past exaggerated their successes and the remoteness of the area makes it near impossible to independently verify.

"We can confirm local security personnel aligned with Afghan government forces were killed in an airstrike in Greshk district of Helmand province", the US Forces in Afghanistan (USFOR-A) statement said. North Atlantic Treaty Organisation and US troops are in Helmand to assist Afghan troops.

For his part, the spokesman for the governor of Helmand, Omar Zwak, confirmed that "several" afghan police officers positioned at a checkpoint were killed. "And an investigation has been launched into the incident to determine the facts behind the regrettable incident", said a government statement. Although a US statement acknowledging the strike did not specify the number of casualties, a Pentagon spokesman later put the figure at from 12-15 deaths.

"In the strike, 16 Afghan policemen were killed including two commanders".

A U.S. airstrike has killed 16 policemen in Afghanistan, officials said yesterday, the latest setback to Washington's efforts to bring peace to the war-torn country.