Five U.S. Special Operations soldiers and at least one Afghan soldier were killed in southern Afghanistan in an apparent friendly fire incident, Afghan and American officials said Tuesday.
The New York Times reports that the incident occurred Monday night in the Zabul Province as the soldiers were taking part in security operations prior to the presidential runoff election scheduled for Saturday. Taliban fighters ambushed the NATO coalition troops as their mission drew to a close. A U.S. Department of Defense official told Fox News that the coalition troops requested air support from a B-1 bomber after engaging the Taliban fighters.
Provincial police chief Gen. Ghulam Sakhi Rooghlawanay confirmed the incident with The Associated Press.
“After the operation was over on the way back, the joint forces came under the attack of insurgents, then foreign forces called for an air support. Unfortunately five NATO soldiers and one Afghan army officer were killed mistakenly by NATO air strike," Rooghlawanay said.
NATO's International Security Assistance Force also released a statement confirming the attack. It, too, indicated that friendly fire was the likely cause of death.
"Tragically, there is the possibility that fratricide may have been involved. The incident is under investigation. Our thoughts are with the families of those killed during this difficult time,” the statement read.
Fratricide is the term commonly used by the coalition to describe friendly fire incidents.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai has criticized coalition airstrikes in the past, usually due to high rates of civilian casualties in the country’s villages. He has refused to sign further security agreements with the United States until it agrees to cease all air attacks.
If confirmed after an investigation, the incident Monday would be the deadliest friendly fire attack in over a decade in the Afghan war. One of the worst instances prior to this occurred in 2002 when four Canadian soldiers were killed after an American F-16 jet dropped a bomb on their position during a night exercise.
Monday’s deaths bring the death toll among coalition forces in Afghanistan this year to 36.