At least eight Afghan soldiers have been killed and five others wounded in what appears to be a US air strike near Kabul, according to the governor of Logar province.
If confirmed, the attack would be the deadliest incident of friendly fire involving international forces since the war began in 2001.
Shortly before 7am on Monday, two helicopters struck an army outpost on a hill in Chiltan, in the district of Baraki Barak in Logar, Mohammad Halim Fidai said.
He could not confirm the origin of the helicopters, but the Logar police chief said they were American. The confirmed that its troops had been involved in an incident in the area.
Col Brian Tribus, a US military spokesman in , said: “We are aware of an incident involving US forces in Logar province this morning. The incident is under investigation.”
Logar has long been an embattled province, with local politicians as foreign troops were withdrawing from Afghanistan in large numbers that several districts in the province were in danger of falling to the Taliban.
Since the beginning of 2015, Nato’s mission, Resolute Support, has been limited to training, advising and assisting Afghan forces. There are, however, still a number of American combat troops left in Afghanistan who are not part of the Nato mission, some of whom carry out air strikes.
The US has during the past month. In June, it carried out 106 attacks, compared with 41 in May, according to . While a significant jump, that is fewer than previous years. Last year, the US carried out 2,363 air strikes. As of the end of June this year, the number was 305.
The Afghan Ministry of Defence said in a statement that Afghan soldiers had been killed and injured by coalition forces “whose helicopters, passing in the area, were fired at by the armed opposition”.
Fidai said the army in Logar had sent several requests for US air support, but without luck, despite worsening security in several areas. However, he said there was no fighting in Baraki Barak when the incident occurred on Monday.
“There was no sign of the enemy,” Fidai said. “Normally, there is a potential enemy there in Baraki Barak, but these days, in general, the situation was very calm.”
The district governor of Baraki Barak, Mohammad Amin, blamed foreign troops for not coordinating with the local Afghan national army brigade. “There was [an Afghan] flag on the checkpoint, and the soldiers were in uniform, but they bombarded the checkpoint anyway,” he said.
An investigation team dispatched with the district governor to the site of the incident came under mortar attack from what they said were Taliban forces. In the early afternoon, the Logar police chief, Daud Ahmadi, said the fighting was still ongoing. The injured soldiers had been taken to a military hospital in neighbouring Paktia province.
Apparently worried about violent reactions against westerners following the incident, USAid urged employees to be careful. “Due to events in Logar province this morning, Kabul Security Force is strongly recommending all western entities avoid locations where armed ANSF [Afghan National Security Forces] are present,” a USAid security officer wrote in an email to colleagues, which has been seen by the Guardian.