(Written by Rod Nordland)
For the second time in a few days, an Afghan army base was destroyed Wednesday — but this time by US airstrikes that followed a firefight between the Afghans and Americans, Afghan officials said.
A local Afghan official said six soldiers were killed and nine others badly wounded, out of 17 soldiers at the base. Qais Mangal, a spokesman for the Afghan Defense Ministry, confirmed that the airstrikes had taken place after another Afghan unit attacked a joint convoy of Afghan Special Forces and US troops. He put the death toll at five soldiers, with 10 wounded.
A US military spokeswoman said personnel at the Afghan army post, which she described as a “checkpoint,” had opened fire on the convoy first.
“This is an example of the fog of war,” Sgt. 1st Class Debra Richardson said. “The US conducted a precision self-defense airstrike on people who were firing at a partnered US-Afghan force.”
The Defense Ministry spokesman said one Afghan commando had been wounded. There were no reports of US casualties, although the US military rarely releases details on wounded soldiers.
In western Afghanistan on Monday, a Taliban attack wiped out a company of Afghan soldiers in their base in Badghis province, killing or capturing more than 50 soldiers. Analysts have said that the Afghan forces’ tendency to stay penned up in fortified bases rather than going on offensives has hurt their effectiveness and led to a devastatingly high rate of casualties.
The airstrikes Wednesday happened while US soldiers were patrolling on the outskirts of Tirin Kot, the capital of southern Uruzgan province, near an Afghan National Army base, according to Mohammed Karim Karimi, the deputy head of the Uruzgan provincial council.
Karimi said the US forces believed that they had heard gunfire coming from the base, and a firefight broke out between the Americans and the Afghan forces at the base. The long-established outpost, known as Satarman Base, guards the approaches to Tirin Kot, which has been repeatedly attacked by Taliban insurgents who dominate much of the surrounding province.
“It is still not confirmed who fired first, but then they both engaged in a firefight,” Karimi said.
The fight lasted four hours, until 3 a.m., when US warplanes carried out airstrikes that destroyed the base, he said.
“There was a misunderstanding between both sides,” Karimi said, adding that in the darkness of the area both forces thought they were engaging the Taliban.
The insurgents often steal Afghan and US military vehicles and uniforms to launch their attacks.
“The Afghan and US partnered force tried to de-escalate the situation but in the fog of war they continued to be fired upon,” Richardson said. “We are operating in a complex environment, Afghans included, where attacks come from fighters who do not wear their uniforms.”
Two Afghan soldiers who fled during the fight were apparently unhurt, Karimi said, but the nine soldiers who were wounded were in critical condition.
“It was a mistake between them,” said Mangal, the Defense Ministry spokesman. “The Afghan army outpost opened fire first on a unit of Afghan and foreign forces headed to a military operation.”
In a separate attack Wednesday, the Taliban again attacked Afghan National Army bases in the Bala Murghab district of Badghis province, where the 50 soldiers were killed or captured Monday. This time, seven soldiers were missing, either captured or killed, officials said.