A search for two US soldiers missing in northwest Afghanistan continued yesterday after 25 soldiers were wounded in what a Western official said may have been a friendly-fire incident during the hunt.
Local police said a party looking for the two missing soldiers clashed with the Taliban and that alliance aircraft were called in to provide support.
While the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) withheld official comment on how the 25 were wounded, police said the casualties occurred when the air strike mistakenly targeted international troops.
A Western military officer who spoke to reporters on condition of anonymity said it appeared to be a “blue-on-blue incident,” or friendly fire, with “a huge number of casualties.”
NATO began its search operation in the barren, rugged area together with Afghan forces after the two paratroopers, from the 82nd Airborne Division, went missing on Wednesday during a routine supply mission.
Afghan police said the two had drowned.
As far as the injured were concerned, an ISAF statement said only that initial reports “indicate more than 25 ISAF and Afghan National Security Force members were wounded” during a joint operation in western Afghanistan.
“The wounded service members were initially treated on the scene and subsequently flown to an ISAF medical facility for further treatment,” it said.
It added that the force was searching for “two missing US Army soldiers.”
“We are committed to taking every measure possible to rescue or recover our missing service members. We continue to do everything we can to find them,” the statement quoted US Navy Captain Jane Campbell as saying.
Abdul Jabar Saleh, the deputy police chief of the northwestern province of Badghis, said the missing men had drowned while trying to recover airdropped packages and that their bodies had not yet been recovered. He said a number of NATO and Afghan personnel had died as they came up against Taliban militants during the search on Friday and that alliance aircraft carried out air strikes.
“In the afternoon... during the search operation launched to find the two drowned American soldiers, a clash took place with Taliban. Then aircraft mistakenly bombed the Afghan and NATO defense lines,” he said.
Seven members of the Afghan security forces were also killed, the defense ministry said on Saturday.
“Due to a NATO forces air strike on November 6 in Badghis Province seven Afghan security personnel [both Afghan army and national police] were martyred and also some were wounded,” the ministry said.