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Friendly Fire Kills 5 Afghan Troops in Southern Afghanistan

Afghan National Army soldiers march during a ceremony in a military base in the Guzara district of Herat province on Feb. 28, 2019.
Afghan National Army soldiers march during a ceremony in a military base in the Guzara district of Herat province on Feb. 28, 2019.

At least five Afghan troops were killed by friendly fire in what was supposed to be a precision airstrike by U.S. forces supporting troops battling insurgents in the country's south, the Defense Ministry said Wednesday.

The mishap during the Tuesday night operation near the city of Tarin Kot in Uruzgan province resulted from miscommunication between the Afghan troops on the ground and forces in the air, the ministry said without providing additional details.

"It was so dark and a misunderstanding happened after which five army soldiers were killed and 10 others were wounded," the statement said. The ministry said it had begun an investigation.

Fighting between the Taliban and government security forces supported by the U.S. in war-torn Afghanistan continued even as insurgent leaders and the U.S. concluded another round of peace negotiations held in Qatar.

The U.S. military said it responded to incoming fire on Afghan and U.S. forces on the ground and attempted to come to their defense by conducting a precision airstrike.

"The strikes were conducted after Afghan and U.S. forces came under effective small arms and rocket-propelled grenade fire and requested air support in self-defense," Resolute Support spokesman Bob Purtiman said in a statement. "We are operating in a complex environment where enemy fighters do not wear uniforms and use stolen military vehicles to attack government forces."

Mohammad Karim Karimi, deputy head of the Uruzgan provincial council, said U.S. air forces mistakenly hit an Afghan base, which was followed by a firefight and five Afghans were killed and 10 wounded.

Col. Qais Mangal, Afghan Defense Ministry spokesman, said there was "a report of a misunderstanding between the U.S. and Afghan forces" but exactly what happened was not immediately known.

Journalist injured by bomb

Separately, in southern Helmand province, Afghan radio and TV journalist Nesar Ahmad Ahmadi was wounded when a sticky bomb attached to his car exploded as he was heading to work. Omar Zwak, the governor's spokesman, said the attack happened Tuesday in Lashkar Gah, the provincial capital.

Ahmadi had a leg wound and was transferred to Kabul for treatment, the spokesman said. He runs the Sabahoon radio station and is also a reporter for Sabahoon TV in Helmand.

No one immediately claimed responsibility for the attack in Helmand, the Taliban heartland.

Afghan journalists are often targeted in attacks. In January, the Afghan Journalist Safety Committee said in its annual report that it had recorded a total of 121 cases of violence against journalists and media workers in 2018. It also said 17 journalists and media workers were killed last year, once again placing Afghanistan as the world's most dangerous country for journalists.

The International Federation of Journalists and its Afghan affiliate condemned the attack on Ahmadi and called for an immediate investigation.

Area retaken from Taliban

In western Farah province, the Taliban stormed an army checkpoint along the main highway in Gulistan district on Tuesday, killing 10 soldiers, said Abdul Samad Salehi, a member of the provincial council.

Reinforcements were sent and the area was retaken and brought under control but five or six other troops remain missing, Salehi added. Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid claimed responsibility for the attack in Farah.

Also in Farah province, a local official was gunned down outside his home on Wednesday, a councilman said.

Mohammad Salim Farahi, head of the public works department, was shot and killed near his home in the provincial capital, Farah city, said Salehi.

The attacks were the latest violence in war-torn Afghanistan even as the Taliban and the U.S. concluded another round of negotiations held in Qatar, with both sides reporting progress in the talks.

Insurgents on the offensive

Despite intensified negotiations between the U.S. and the Taliban to end the 17-year was in Afghanistan, the insurgents have been carrying out near-daily attacks across the country, mainly targeting the government and security forces and causing staggering casualties.

The nearly two weeks of talks in Qatar produced two draft agreements between the Taliban and the U.S. government on a "withdrawal timeline and effective counterterrorism measures," American envoy Zalmay Khalilzad wrote on Twitter.

The Taliban also issued a statement, saying "progress was achieved" on both of those issues. However, the Taliban have consistently refused to talk with the government in Kabul, describing it as a U.S. puppet.

The talks concluded late Tuesday. It wasn't immediately clear when the next round of talks would take place.