Nato airstrike accidentally kills Afghan troops

Afghan defence official condemns latest 'friendly fire' deaths, another setback in the US-led force's goal of training and coordinating with the country's own army.

KABUL // Nato mistakenly killed five of its Afghan army allies in an airstrike today while the Afghans were attacking insurgents in the country's east, officials said. An Afghan defence official condemned the latest "friendly fire" deaths, which came at a time when international troops are trying to improve coordination with Afghan forces in hopes of handing over more security to them nearly nine years into the war. Three American soldiers were also reported killed today in a roadside bomb in the south of the country.

The Afghan soldiers were launching an ambush before dawn against insurgents reportedly on the move in Ghazni province when Nato aircraft began firing on them without warning,said an Afghan defense ministry spokesman, Gen Mohammad Zahir Azimi. Five Afghan soldiers died and two more were wounded in the airstrike in Ghazni's Andar district, he said. "This is not the first time such an incident has happened, but we wish that at least this would be the last one," Gen Azimi said.

A Nato spokesman, Josef Blotz, confirmed the botched airstrike. He said he regretted the Afghan National Army deaths, telling a news briefing that a joint investigation has been launched. "The reason for this is perhaps a coordination issue,"Mr Blotz said. "We were obviously not absolutely clear whether there were Afghan national security forces in the area." He extended the personal condolences of Gen David Petraeus, the newly arrived commander of Nato forces in Afghanistan, to the families of the victims.

The Afghan soldiers' deaths at the hands of their allies was another setback in the US-led force's goal of training and coordinating with the Afghans, one of the cornerstones of its counter-insurgency strategy. NAato is counting on the strategy to beat back the insurgents' recent gains, nearly nine years after US-backed forces toppled the Taliban's hard-line Islamist regime. The aim is to win over the population by limiting Afghan casualties while securing new areas, eventually turning control over to local army and police and allowing foreign troops to withdraw.

Violence has been increasing across Afghanistan, coinciding with the arrival of thousands of American soldiers for a new push to try to establish Afghan government control in the south, one of the Taliban's strongest areas of influence. Today, Nato said three American troops were killed by a roadside bomb in the south Tuesday. It did not identify them or give any other details. Last month was the deadliest for international forces since the war began, with 103 killed, including 60 Americans.

Britain was expected to announce today that it would withdraw its troops from one tumultuous district in the south, turning over responsibility to US forces. The Sangin valley in Helmand province has been one of the deadliest for British forces, accounting for a large portion of the 312 soldiers killed since 2001. Britain's defence ministry said the defence secretary, Liam Fox, is to make a statement today to the House of Commons on the deployment of British troops. A government official said US troops are expected to replace UK forces in Sangin starting around November.

Britain has about 10,000 troops in Afghanistan, most based in Helmand. * AP