Afghan policemen killed in US 'friendly fire' air strike

Afghan security officials patrol as security has been highly intensified following the Kabul suicide bomb blast, in Helmand, Afghanistan on June 8, 2017.
Afghan security officials patrol as security has been highly intensified following the Kabul suicide bomb blast, in Helmand, Afghanistan on June 8, 2017.PHOTO: EPA

KANDAHAR (AFP) - A US air strike killed at least two Afghan policemen and wounded four others in Helmand, officials said Saturday (June 10), in apparently the first "friendly fire" incident since American Marines returned to the southern province in April.

Afghan border police were on a patrol in the volatile district of Nad Ali when they came under fire during a military operation around midnight Friday.

"We can confirm personnel from the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces were killed and wounded during overnight operations in Helmand Province," the US military said in a statement, adding that an investigation had been launched.

"We would like to express our deepest condolences to the families of the ABP members affected by this unfortunate incident." The policemen were patrolling too close to a Taliban base when they came under attack, provincial spokesman Omar Zhwak told AFP.

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"Two police officers were killed and four others wounded. A number of Taliban were also killed in the air strike," Zhwak said.

Helmand for years was the centrepiece of the US and British military intervention in Afghanistan - only for it to slip deeper into a quagmire of instability.

The Taliban effectively control or contest 10 of Helmand's 14 districts, blighted by a huge opium harvest that helps fund the insurgency.

Last year the fighting forced thousands of people to flee their homes, mostly seeking refuge in provincial capital Lashkar Gah, with the city practically besieged by the Taliban.

US Marines returned to Helmand in April, years after NATO's combat mission ended in 2014, to help embattled Afghan security forces beat back the resurgent Taliban.

The deployment of some 300 Marines to the poppy-growing province came as the Trump administration seeks to craft a new strategy in Afghanistan.

The Pentagon has asked the White House to send thousands more troops to the war-torn country to break the deadlocked fight against the Taliban.

US troops in Afghanistan number about 8,400 today, and there are another 5,000 from NATO allies, who also mainly serve in an advisory capacity - a far cry from the US presence of more than 100,000 six years ago.