Three British NATO troops were killed in an apparent "friendly fire" incident in Afghanistan when a US jet dropped a bomb on them during fighting with the Taliban, officials said yesterday.
The incident, near Kajaki in southern Helmand Province, happened late on Thursday when two US warplanes were called to provide support after an attack by the rebels, the Ministry of Defence in London said.
The deaths are likely to spark anger in Britain, where a coroner ruled earlier this year that a British soldier was unlawfully killed by US pilots in Iraq and criticized the Pentagon for failing to provide information.
"Their patrol was attacked by Taliban insurgents and during the intense engagement that ensued, close air support was called in from two US F15 aircraft to repel the enemy," a ministry statement said. "A single bomb was dropped and it is believed the explosion killed all three soldiers who were declared dead at the scene."
The soldiers were all from 1st Battalion the Royal Anglian Regiment. Two others were injured in the attack and are being treated at Camp Bastion, the main base in insurgency-torn Helmand.
The US embassy in London issued a brief statement saying that the "tragic deaths" would be thoroughly investigated.
"The United States expresses its deep condolences to the families and loved ones of the soldiers who died, and we wish those who were injured a speedy recovery," it said.
Both the British army and the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) launched immediate investigations into the deaths.
"ISAF is committed to finding out exactly how this tragedy occurred and how similar incidents can be avoided," spokeswoman Lieutenant Colonel Claudia Foss said in a statement.
Britain has more than 6,000 troops in Afghanistan, a figure which will increase to over 7,700 this year. They are mostly deployed in the south. A total of 73 British troops have been killed in Afghanistan since 2001.
A British Royal Marine, Jonathan Wigley, 21, was killed by suspected "friendly fire" in Helmand in December last year. British newspapers quoted fellow soldiers as saying he was killed by a US A-10 "tankbuster" jet.
Earlier this year an investigating coroner in Oxford repeatedly expressed his frustration at the Pentagon's failure to provide vital information and witnesses into the death of a British trooper in Iraq.
Lance Corporal Matty Hull died in 2003 when US planes opened fire on his tank in Iraq after mistaking a British convoy for enemy vehicles.
The coroner ruled that Hull's death was a criminal breach of the international law of armed conflict.
Separately in Afghanistan's western Herat Province yesterday, two troops from the US-led coalition, which is separate from ISAF, were killed when their vehicle overturned, a coalition statement said.
The deaths in Helmand and Herat brought to 144 the number of foreign soldiers killed in the country this year, most of them in combat with the Taliban.