US military offers condolences after 5 Afghan soldiers killed in airstrike
KABUL — The U.S. military offered its condolences Thursday after an airstrike on an Afghan army outpost mistakenly killed five Afghan soldiers and injured at least seven.
The predawn strike in eastern Afghanistan’s Logar province, which U.S. military officials described as an “unfortunate incident,” comes as U.S. and Afghan officials continue to clash over an agreement that would keep American troops in the country beyond the end of the year.
President Hamid Karzai has refused to sign the accord, which he helped write, and in the past year has used increasingly sharp language to accuse U.S. forces of being occupiers and indiscriminately killing Afghan civilians.
But Karzai was unusually mild in his reaction to Thursday’s incident, telling reporters during a state visit to Sri Lanka that it was being investigated. He did not immediately condemn the international troops.
“This attack, NATO has admitted to me they did it mistakenly,” Karzai said, according to the Associated Press. “We will investigate the issue and then speak about it.”
The security agreement is a requirement for keeping a residual U.S. force in Afghanistan beyond December, when most of the roughly 33,000 remaining American troops are to withdraw. Military officials have said a post-2014 mission would focus on counter-terrorism operations and on training Afghan soldiers, who still struggle with communications and air power.
Obama administration officials are hoping to complete the accord with Karzai’s successor, who is to be chosen in the April 5 presidential election. The front-runners in the race have indicated they would sign the agreement.
Pressure from Karzai has forced U.S. military officials to curtail the use of airstrikes, particularly in populated areas, although the Afghan military says it needs U.S. air power in battles against Taliban insurgents.
Officials in the Charkh district of Logar province, where the airstrike occurred around 3:20 a.m., said the deaths and injuries were the result of a drone attack. U.S. officials would not comment on whether a drone was involved.
“We value the strong relationship with our Afghan partners, and we will determine what actions will be taken to ensure incidents like this do not happen again,” said a statement from the International Security Assistance Force, as the U.S.-led coalition is known.
Din Mohammad Darwish, spokesman for the provincial governor, said Afghan soldiers were being sent to conduct an investigation in Charkh, described by Afghan and U.S. officials alike as an area filled with insurgents.