An American airstrike has killed at least seven Afghan police officers in the embattled southern province of Uruzgan, according to local officials.
The US has launched airstrikes in the province to help Afghan security forces repel an offensive by the Taliban who recently came close to capturing the provincial capital, Tarin Kot.
The errant airstrike occurred on Sunday around noon when a police post off the highway leading to Kandahar came under attack. Officials say the US apparently tried to defend the police forces and accidentally struck the checkpoint.
“It was a mistake from the American side. There was bad communication between them and the police,” said Abdul Karim Khadimzai, head of Uruzgan’s provincial council. He said seven police were killed and one gravely injured.
Colonel Michael Lawhorn, a spokesman for the US military in , said: “US forces conducted two airstrikes down there against individuals that were firing on Afghan forces. Beyond that I can’t confirm anything.”
According to Obaidullah Barakzai, who represents Uruzgan in parliament, the policemen who died were part of a reserve unit tasked with securing the highway. They were apparently not wearing uniforms at the time of the attack, he said.
“The police battalion said they wore uniforms, but I heard from the foreigners that they were wearing civilian clothes and carrying guns. That is why they were attacked,” he said.
The could neither confirm nor deny that claim, though Lawhorn said, “We have heard the same reports.”
Taliban return to Afghan town that rose up and drove out its leaders
Uruzgan, long one of the most contested provinces in the country’s south, is said to be the birthplace of the late Taliban founder Mullah Omar. It was also where former president Hamid Karzai launched a guerrilla campaign to oust the Taliban in 2001. As such, Uruzgan has symbolic value to both sides of the conflict.
In early September, after months of steadily gaining ground throughout the province, the Taliban made a sudden advance on Tarin Kot. Within a day, they had entered the city and were attacking the police headquarters and the governor’s compound, sending officials fleeing to the airport.
Only when reinforcements arrived, in the form of troops from nearby Kandahar, and US airstrikes, did the security forces push back the militant force.
Uruzgan has grown increasingly perilous after . A strongman who rose to power and grew rich with support from international forces, Khan also ruled through tribal politics, sowing the seeds for anti-government unrest.
On Monday, a day after the erroneous airstrike, the ambassador of the Netherlands, whose troops were in charge of Uruzgan from 2006 to 2010 when they handed over command to Australians, paid a rare visit to Tarin Kot. that the .