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US airstrikes kill 8 Afghan police, officials say

A member of the Afghan police departs a military checkpoint in Uruzgan province, Afghanistan, in March 2012. U.S. airstrikes in Uruzgan province in central Afghanistan killed eight Afghan police officers, an Afghan official said Monday, Sept. 19, 2016. U.S. officials said strikes were carried out in response to an “immediate threat.”

MATTHEW LEISTIKOW/U.S. NAVY

By CHAD GARLAND AND ZUBAIR BABAKARKHAIL | STARS AND STRIPES Published: September 19, 2016

KABUL, Afghanistan — U.S. airstrikes in Uruzgan province in central Afghanistan killed eight Afghan police officers, an Afghan official said Monday. U.S. officials said strikes were carried out in response to an “immediate threat.”

Two strikes were conducted Sunday on a checkpoint in the Saki area of Tirin Kot, the provincial capital, along the Uruzgan-Kandahar highway, said highway police commander Haji Rahimullah. The first attack killed a police officer, he said.

“When we sent more police to investigate the issue, the outpost was bombed again and it killed seven more,” Rahimullah said.

The Taliban had raised their signature white flags “everywhere in nearby areas,” he said, but the positions targeted belonged to the Afghan police.

In a statement, Brig. Gen. Charles Cleveland, spokesman for the NATO-led Resolute Support mission in Afghanistan, said the strikes targeted “individuals firing on, and posing a threat to, our Afghan partners.”

“We don’t have any further information on who those individuals might have been or why they were attacking ANDSF (Afghan national defense and security forces),” Cleveland said. “U.S., coalition and Afghan forces have the right to self-defense, and in this case were responding to an immediate threat.”

The Afghan forces have taken on the primary responsibility for fighting the Taliban, who have waged a 15-year war against the Western-backed Kabul government. U.S. and international military advisers provide training, advice and assistance, and U.S forces are authorized to conduct strikes to prevent strategic losses as well as to protect Afghan and coalition forces.

Online, the Taliban appeared to be playing the strikes for their own propaganda, claiming they were called by Gen. Abdul Raziq. The police chief of neighboring Kandahar province, Raziq has been lauded by U.S. and Afghan officials for his campaign against the Taliban. Earlier this month, Raziq and some of his troops had deployed to Tirin Kot to help push out Taliban fighters who had besieged the police headquarters and governor’s compound there.

Cleveland said the strike was called in by U.S. forces “using standard procedures in cooperation with our Afghan partners,” but he said he could not discuss details of those procedures due to operational security concerns.

Elsewhere in southern Afghanistan, special units of the National Directorate of Security raided an al-Qaida hideout in a village in Zabul province’s Mizan district, killing five Pakistani fighters and capturing two others, the government said in a statement Monday.

Among the items seized were two suicide vests, a number of firearms, five grenades, communications equipment and computers, two Pakistani ID cards and three motorcycles, the government said.

garland.chad@stripes.com

Twitter: @chadgarland