KABUL, Afghanistan — U.S. forces mistakenly killed six Afghan national policemen and wounded 13 others during an early morning raid Wednesday on a suspected Taliban leader, U.S. forces here said.
The military said in a statement that Afghan police officers fired on U.S. forces while they were pursuing a suspected Taliban leader in the restive southern province of Zabul. The suspected leader had barricaded himself in a building. After U.S. forces killed him, someone began firing small arms at them. The troops responded and eventually called in an airstrike that killed the Afghan police officers.
U.S. military officials told McClatchy that it was a Special Forces operation.
Mohammed Yaqoub, the police chief of Zabul province, told McClatchy that his officers had set up a checkpoint near the site of the attack. They heard the U.S. forces were in pursuit of the suspected Taliban leader and thought that Taliban members were assaulting the building. So they began attacking.
Yaqoub said that local and U.S. forces usually coordinate well, but because it was a Special Forces mission, the Afghan police weren't aware of the operation. U.S. officials have promoted how U.S. and Afghan forces work together but also privately concede they're hesitant to share details about Special Forces operations.
"The police thought that they were Taliban, so they started shooting. The Special Forces called in air support, and (the police officers) were killed in the air strike," Yaqoub said. "This was just a misunderstanding."
The U.S. issued its the statement hours after Wednesday's incident, as part of its effort to show the Afghans its commitment to owning up to mistakes.
"Coalition forces deeply regret the incident of mistaken fire," said Col. Jerry O'Hara, a U.S. Forces Afghanistan spokesman in the statement. "Initial reports indicate this was a tragic case of mistaken identity on both parts."
The shooting is the latest in a string of incidents in which U.S. troops have mistakenly killed local forces, increasing tensions with the Afghans with whom they're supposed to be cooperating. In October, U.S. forces killed nine Afghan soldiers during a bombing in the eastern Afghan province of Khost.
U.S. military officials and members of the Afghan Ministry of Defense and Interior traveled to Zabul to investigate Wednesday's incident.
Zabul province, which borders Pakistan, is one of Afghanistan's poorer regions, lacking a major city or agriculture system to drive its economy. The main highway between Kandahar and Kabul runs through it.
(McClatchy special correspondent Hashim Shukoor contributed to this article.)
MORE FROM MCCLATCHY
McClatchy Newspapers 2008