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U.S. Airstrike Kills Afghan Police Members; More Than A Dozen Killed

An Afghan policeman holds a rocket-propelled grenade during an ongoing battle with Taliban militants in the Gereshk district of Helmand province Saturday. A U.S. airstrike killed 16 policemen in the area on Friday, local officials said.

Afghan officials say 16 members of the Afghan National Security Forces died in a U.S. airstrike Friday, during operations against Taliban fighters in southern Helmand province. The U.S. says it is investigating the circumstances that led to the mistake.

Afghan media report that 16 members of the security force died, citing local government officials. Although a U.S. statement acknowledging the strike did not specify the number of casualties, a Pentagon spokesman later put the figure at from 12-15 deaths.

The strike hit Afghans who were in a compound that local media describe as a security outpost in a village that had come under attack by the Taliban in the Gereshk district.

From Islamabad, NPR's Diaa Hadid reports, "The position had just been hit by airstrikes to repel Taliban fighters. An Afghan journalist in Kabul who covered the incident says local forces then rushed in and were hit by another NATO strike."

"The U.S. Marines guiding the strike Friday afternoon in Gereshk district, thought the men gathered in the compound were Taliban, not police," Jennifer Glasse reports from Kabul for NPR's Newscast unit. "The checkpoint they were inspecting had changed hands a number of times during days of fighting in the south. The son of the Taliban's leader Abdul Rahman Khalid helped launch the Taliban offensive Thursday, blowing himself up in a car bomb."

In a statement about the strike, U.S. Forces Afghanistan said, "We would like to express our deepest condolences to the families affected by this unfortunate incident."

Local media outlet Pajhwok News reports that two commanders were among the policemen killed.

"The strike comes during a period of already poor morale among Afghan forces fighting for the government," Diaa says. "But U.S. airpower is key to helping the Afghan government stay its ground. Afghan forces are struggling to hold areas that U.S.-led troops helped take from the Taliban."

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