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Mideast edition, Saturday, August 25, 2007

RAF MILDENHALL, England — Three British soldiers were killed in Afghanistan on Thursday when they were reportedly struck by a bomb from an F-15 Eagle fighter jet.

The incident occurred about 6 p.m. local time when an American F-15 was scrambled for close-air support after Taliban fighters attacked a British patrol, according to Britain’s Ministry of Defence.

“It is with profound sadness that the Ministry of Defence must confirm the deaths of three soldiers … who were killed in what is believed to be a friendly fire incident,” a Ministry of Defence press release stated.

The soldiers were in a patrol to disrupt Taliban activity northwest of Kajaki in the Helmand province, according to the ministry.

One bomb from an F-15 was dropped and it is believed the explosion killed the three soldiers, the ministry said. The ministry has opened an investigation into Thursday’s incident.

Three soldiers were declared dead at the scene and an undisclosed number of injured troops were evacuated by helicopter to a medical facility at Camp Bastion, according to the ministry.

The British Broadcasting Corp. reported Friday that two soldiers were injured in the incident.

The troops were from the 1st Battalion, Royal Anglian Regiment, which is based in Bury St. Edmunds, Suffolk. The deaths Thursday marked the ninth Royal Anglian Regiment soldier killed in Afghanistan in the past four months, according to the BBC.

The town is roughly 20 miles from RAFs Lakenheath and Mildenhall, which are home to the majority of the roughly 10,000 American airmen stationed in England.

RAF Lakenheath is home to the 48th Fighter Wing, which has three F-15 Eagle squadrons, including a contingent currently deployed to Afghanistan. It was unclear Friday if an F-15 Eagle from RAF Lakenheath was involved in the friendly fire incident.

A RAF Lakenheath spokesman on Friday referred all questions to the International Security Assistance Force in Kabul.

A U.S. Air Force spokeswoman in Afghanistan also referred queries to ISAF, which in turn referred all questions to the Ministry of Defence.

Royal Anglian Regiment spokesman Peter Dixon said he would not answer media queries until Saturday, citing family requests for a 24-hour grieving period.

A ministry spokesman said Friday this was the first incident in which British troops were felled by friendly fire in Afghanistan. There have been high-profile cases of British soldiers killed by American friendly fire in Iraq.

Earlier this year a British civilian investigation found that American pilots were at fault for the 2003 death of Lance Cpl. Matthew Hull near Basra. A separate U.S. probe exonerated the pilots.

>The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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