5 Afghan Police Killed

Friday, March 16th 2007, 10:57 am
By: News On 6

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) _ The Afghan government said Friday that U.S.-led coalition forces mistakenly killed five Afghan police in a southern province. A coalition spokesman said Americans were not involved in the incident.

The police were manning a checkpoint in Gereshk district of Helmand province, Interior Ministry spokesman Zemeri Bashary said.

``Coalition forces mistakenly opened fire on police,'' Bashary said. ``Unfortunately five policemen were killed.''

A high-ranking Afghan delegation was sent to the area to investigate, Bashary said. He could not provide any further details of how the incident occurred.

``It appears at this moment that there was no U.S. involvement in the Gereshk incident,'' said Sgt. 1st Class Dean Welch, a coalition spokesman, adding that the military's investigation was not yet complete. Lt. Col. Angela Billings, a spokeswoman for NATO's International Security Assistance Force in Kabul, said the force's troops were not involved in the clash.

A senior U.S. military official, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the subject, said that clash was between members of the Afghan National Army and auxiliary police.

The police at the checkpoint opened fired on a passing army convoy, which set off the exchange in which five policemen were killed, the official said. He claimed that there was ``strong evidence'' to suggest the police were colluding with Taliban.

U.S. military trainers were at the back of the Afghan army convoy but not involved in the fire fight, he said.

Lt. Gen. Sher Mohammad Karimi, the Afghan National Army's chief of operations, said the initial report suggested that Afghan troops were not involved in the incident.

``We have asked for further explanation,'' Karimi said.

The clash came as NATO-led forces tried to secure a region of Helmand province _ a stronghold for resurgent Taliban militants _ as part of their largest operation yet in Afghanistan.

About 47,000 Western forces are deployed in Afghanistan. NATO leads 36,000 troops, and the U.S.-led coalition maintains a 11,000-strong force engaged in independent operations throughout the country.

Helmand is also the hub of the country's opium and heroin trade, which is believed to help fund the Taliban. Afghan officials also have been accused of profiting.