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U.S. planes strike Canadian troops, killing one soldier



Published: Tue, September 5, 2006 @ 12:00 a.m.



A U.S. fighter pilot accidentally killed four Canadian soldiers in 2002.

CHICAGO TRIBUNE

KABUL, Afghanistan -- U.S. warplanes accidentally strafed Canadian troops fighting the Taliban in southern Afghanistan early Monday, killing one soldier and wounding several, NATO officials said.

The "friendly-fire" incident happened near Panjwayi, where NATO troops have been fighting a pitched battle with the Taliban for three days, part of Operation Medusa. On Monday morning, NATO troops called for close air support. Two U.S. A-10 aircraft responded but hit the Canadian forces with cannons by mistake, NATO officials said.

"It is particularly distressing to us all when, despite the care and precautions that are always applied, a tragedy like this happens," said Lt. Gen. David Richards, the commander of the International Security Assistance Force, or ISAF, the NATO-led forces that assumed security control of most of Afghanistan in August.

International troops are facing their toughest challenge from Taliban insurgents since the regime fell, almost five years ago. The Taliban has taken advantage of a weak government in the south, and is often paying recruits more than the government pays its soldiers.

Attack

Also on Monday, a suicide bomber attacked a British-led NATO convoy in Kabul along a road frequently targeted by suicide attackers and home to many U.N. agencies and relief groups. The bomber, in a Toyota truck, killed one British soldier and four Afghans, officials said. Two of the Afghans were brothers who helped their father fix flat tires. The two others were young men riding past on a motorcycle. Another British soldier was seriously injured; two others were slightly injured. Four Afghans were injured.

The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack. "I know there were civilians killed," said Mohammed Hanif, a purported spokesman for the Taliban in the Kabul region. "We are deeply concerned about that and want to show our condolences to the families. But this is war, and these things happen."

But the serious war has been happening in the south, where Taliban insurgents have regrouped and mounted a growing challenge to the NATO troops that took control of the region from the U.S.-led coalition.

This was the first NATO aircraft-supported operation to have problems in more than 800 successful operations in Afghanistan, Richards said. An investigation has been ordered into the incident.

The accident is reminiscent of one in 2002, when an Illinois National Guard fighter pilot mistook a Canadian live-ammunition exercise in Afghanistan as an attack, dropped a bomb and killed four Canadian soldiers. The accident outraged many Canadians.

Fighting

Richards said Monday's accident did not soften NATO's resolve. It followed a weekend of fighting in which NATO forces claimed to have killed more than 200 Taliban fighters in the Panjwayi area, a hotbed for Taliban resistance. Four Canadian soldiers died in the fighting.

"We are fighting through a difficult position, which needs clearing," said Richards, adding that the Taliban must be moved out of the region before reconstruction can begin.

In an unusual step, NATO troops warned civilians in the area before Operation Medusa began, holding meetings with tribal elders and dropping leaflets telling people to leave.

President Hamid Karzai and the Afghan government have frequently complained about international troops killing civilians.

NATO insisted no civilians were killed in the fighting.

Mullah Ibrahim Hanifi, one of the Taliban ground commanders in the area, said in a telephone interview that the Taliban had left the area because of the NATO warning. He denied that 200 Taliban had been killed.




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