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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 14 December 2018

US air strike kills 16 Afghan policemen

The friendly fire incident took place in Helmand province on Friday as Afghan security forces attempted to clear a village of Taliban militants, said Salam Afghan, a police spokesman

Afghan security personnel sit atop an armoured vehicle amid an ongoing battle with Taliban militants in the Gereshk district of Helmand province on July 22, 2017. Noor Mohammad / AFP
Afghan security personnel sit atop an armoured vehicle amid an ongoing battle with Taliban militants in the Gereshk district of Helmand province on July 22, 2017. Noor Mohammad / AFP

A US air strike has killed 16 policemen in Afghanistan, officials said on Saturday, the latest setback to Washington's efforts to bring peace to the war-torn country.

The friendly fire incident took place in Helmand province on Friday as Afghan security forces attempted to clear a village of Taliban militants, said Salam Afghan, a police spokesman.

"In the strike, 16 Afghan policemen were killed including two commanders. Two other policemen were wounded," he said.

The strike hit a compound in the Gereshk district in Helmand, large parts of which are under Taliban control.

"A US-supported [Afghan security] operation … resulted in the deaths of … friendly Afghan forces who were gathered in a compound," Nato's mission in Afghanistan said.

"We would like to express our deepest condolences to the families affected by this unfortunate incident," it said, adding that there would be an investigation into what happened.

An interior ministry spokesman, Najeeb Danish, said a ministry delegation had been sent to the area to investigate and help families of the victims.

For years, Helmand was the centrepiece of the US and British military intervention in Afghanistan.

But the Taliban now effectively controls or contests 10 of the province's 14 districts, blighted by a huge opium harvest that helps fund the insurgency.

In April, some 300 US marines returned to the province as embattled Afghan security forces struggle to beat back the resurgent militant movement.

The surge helped Afghan security forces, backed by US air strikes, recapture Helmand's Nawa district six months ago.

Friday's operation came as Pentagon chief Jim Mattis finalised plans to present a new Afghanistan strategy to president Donald Trump in a bid to reverse what US generals call a "stalemate" at best.

In February, a US air strike in Sangin killed at least 18 civilians, mostly women and children.

And in November last year, 32 Afghan civilians were killed in a US air strike in the northeastern province of Kunduz.