ISLAMABAD, PAKISTAN - Afghan Defense Ministry officials have confirmed that Friday’s U.S. counterinsurgency airstrike in the southern Helmand province mistakenly killed at least 15 government troops.
The friendly fire incident happened in the Gereshk district where intense fighting was raging between Afghan forces and Taliban insurgents.
Afghan Defense Ministry spokesman Dawlat Waziri says during the fighting a security outpost was hit by missiles fired by a U.S. drone late Friday afternoon. He told VOA on Saturday the strike left at least 15 security personnel dead and one wounded.
Confusion at security post
U.S. military officials confirmed that local security personnel aligned with Afghan government forces were killed. Officials issued a statement calling the deaths “unfortunate” and pledged an investigation to “determine the specific circumstances that led to this incident.”
The clashes in Gereshk erupted Thursday when the Taliban staged a major, coordinated assault to try to capture the key district.
The attack started with three suicide bombers in separate explosives-packed vehicles striking security outposts and enabling the insurgents to overrun several of them.
Speaking to local TOLO television channel, Defense Ministry spokesman Waziri said the security post hit by the drone had also fallen to the Taliban and coordinates were shared with the U.S. military so it could bomb the installation and evict the insurgents.
“But they (pro-government forces) had retaken the post in the meantime. They (Afghan forces) were not wearing uniforms and that was when the unmanned aircraft mistook them with the Taliban and attacked them,” Waziri explained.
Claims of a bomber’s identity
Taliban sources, meanwhile, claimed that one of the three bombers who carried out Thursday’s suicide attacks was the son of Hibattullah Akhundzada, the fugitive chief of the Islamist insurgency.
The sources identified the 22-year-old man as Abdul Rahman, saying he drove an explosives-packed Humvee into the Afghan forces’ post in Gereshk.
It was not possible to independently verify the claim, but Taliban sources say Rahman had recorded a video message before going on the suicide mission and it will be released soon.
The Taliban controls several districts in Helmand, the largest Afghan province and a major poppy growing region.
Earlier this week, Afghan forces backed by U.S. air power and military advisers recaptured the Nawa district near the provincial capital of Lashkargah, nine months after the Taliban had overrun it.
The restive Afghan province borders Pakistan and Iran.