An Afghan airstrike killed 10 security forces in volatile Helmand today, an official said, as the country’s military attempts to oust Taliban insurgents from a stronghold.
At least nine Afghan police were wounded in the “erroneous” airstrike in the southern province’s Gereshk district and an investigation is underway, Helmand governor Hayatullah Hayat told AFP. “The airstrike happened as Afghan forces were pushing to break through the Taliban frontline in the strategic area that has been the scene of heavy fighting over the past several days,” Hayat said.
The incident, which was confirmed by Afghanistan’s defence ministry, comes more than two months after a US airstrike killed 16 Afghan police and wounded two others in the same district, large parts of which are under Taliban control. That attack came on the back of a US strike in Helmand’s Sangin district that killed at least 18 civilians, mostly women and children, in February.
A US airstrike in the Afghan capital Kabul a few days ago wounded six members of the same family after a missile malfunctioned and landed on the wrong house, adding to the civilian toll from the grinding conflict. The number of civilians killed and wounded was at a record high in the first six months of 2017, a recent UN report shows, made worse by the Afghan Air Force carrying out its own airstrikes along with US Forces.
“Airstrikes carried out by international and Afghan air forces caused 590 civilian casualties (in 2016), nearly double that recorded in 2015,” a separate UN report shows, with women and children accounting for more than half of the victims.
The withdrawal of US-led NATO combat troops at the end of 2014 enabled the Taliban to regain control of opium-rich Helmand which has seen some of the fiercest fighting of the 16-year war. Much of it remains controlled or contested by the Taliban who are heavily reliant on the proceeds of drug trafficking to fuel their insurgency.
In April, about 300 US Marines returned to Helmand as part of NATO’s train and assist mission to help embattled Afghan security forces get the upper hand against the insurgents.