NATO warplanes kill Canadian soldier in "friendly fire" incident

Monday, September 4th 2006, 6:04 am
By: News On 6

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (AP) _ NATO warplanes strafed their own forces in southern Afghanistan on Monday, killing one Canadian soldier and seriously wounding five others during an anti-Taliban operation that the alliance says has killed 200 militants.

A British soldier attached to NATO was also killed in a Kabul suicide bombing, which left another four Afghans dead on Monday, NATO and Afghan officials said. Sixteen suspected Taliban militants and five Afghan police died in separate Afghan violence.

The intense fighting comes amid Afghanistan's deadliest spate of violence since U.S.-led forces toppled the hard-line Taliban regime for hosting al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.

NATO said the friendly fire incident occurred during a major NATO-led operation in Kandahar province's Panjwayi district. After ground troops requested air support, two NATO aircraft ``regrettably engaged friendly forces during a strafing run, using cannons,'' the statement said.

One Canadian soldier was killed, said NATO spokesman Maj. Scott Lundy, while five were seriously wounded and evacuated out of Afghanistan for medical treatment. He did not say where they were taken. An investigation into the incident has been launched.

``It is particularly distressing to us all when, despite the care and precautions that are always applied, a tragedy like this happens,'' said NATO commander Lt. Gen. David Richards.

On Sunday, four Canadian soldiers were killed and seven wounded during Operation Medusa, which aims to drive a large group of Taliban militants from Panjwayi, about 15 miles west of the main southern city of Kandahar.

In Kabul, a car driven by a suicide bomber exploded alongside a British convoy, killing one soldier and seriously wounding another, the British Ministry of Defense said.

Another four Afghan civilians were killed, while at least two other NATO soldiers and seven Afghans were wounded in the blast on the Kabul-Jalalabad road, NATO and Afghan officials said.

The driver also died, Afghan police said.

NATO reported that more than 200 Taliban fighters had died in the first two days of Operation Medusa, which began Saturday. The Afghan Defense Ministry, however, reported 89 militants were killed. Some 80 other suspected Taliban were arrested by Afghan police and a further 180 fled, NATO said.

The casualty counts _ which if confirmed represent one of the deadliest combat actions since U.S.-led forces ousted the Taliban regime five years ago _ could not be independently verified.

Authorities have barred citizens from traveling on all but the main road running through this part of Kandahar province, and reporters could not reach the battlefield.

A NATO statement said its figure was based on ``surveillance and reconnaissance assets operating in Panjwayi and Zhari districts'' and information from Afghan officials and citizens.

On Sunday, an Associated Press reporter who traveled to the district's Pashmul area saw warplanes drop five bombs within about 20 minutes on orchards where Taliban fighters were believed to be hiding. Booming explosions echoed above the grape and pomegranate fields and kicked up clouds of dust.

NATO said there were no reports of civilian casualties, despite the heavy fire. Afghan Defense Ministry spokesman Gen. Zahir Azimi, however, said there were a number of civilian casualties.

NATO spokesman Maj. Scott Lundy said the NATO and Afghan forces had gained ground and had disrupted the militants' command and control.

The weekend's fatalities increased the total of foreign troops killed in Afghanistan so far this year beyond the 130 who died during all of 2005 _ an indication of the escalation in violence stemming from the surge in Taliban attacks.

In neighboring Helmand province, suspected Taliban militants attacked a district headquarters in the town of Garmser early Monday, setting off fighting that killed 16 militants and three police, said provincial police chief Ghulam Nadi Malakhel.

In Parwan province north of Kabul, militants shot dead two police including a senior officer, in the third killing of a top district official here in as many days, an official said Monday.