The friendly fire incident happened near Panjwayi, where NATO troops have been fighting a pitched battle with the Taliban for three days, part of Operation Medusa. Yesterday morning, NATO troops called for close air support. Two U.S. A-10 aircraft responded but hit the Canadian forces with cannons by mistake, NATO officials said.
"It is particularly distressing to us all when, despite the care and precautions that are always applied, a tragedy like this happens," said Lt. Gen. David Richards, commander of the NATO-led forces that assumed security control of most of Afghanistan in August.
International troops are facing their toughest challenge from Taliban insurgents since the regime fell, almost five years ago. The Taliban has taken advantage of a weak government in the south and is often paying recruits more than the government pays its soldiers.
Also yesterday, a suicide bomber attacked a British-led NATO convoy in Kabul along a road frequently targeted by suicide attackers and home to many United Nations agencies and relief groups. The truck bomb killed one British soldier and four Afghans, officials said. Three British soldiers and four Afghans were injured.
The Taliban claimed responsibility for the suicide attack. "I know there were civilians killed," said Mohammed Hanif, a purported spokesman for the Taliban in the Kabul region. "We are deeply concerned about that and want to show our condolences to the families. But this is war, and these things happen."
Yesterday's accident was the first NATO aircraft-supported operation to have problems in more than 800 successful operations in Afghanistan, Richards said. An investigation has been ordered into the incident.
The accident is reminiscent of one in 2002, when an Illinois National Guard fighter pilot mistook a Canadian live-ammunition exercise in Afghanistan as an attack, dropped a bomb and killed four Canadian soldiers. The accident outraged many Canadians.
Richards said the yesterday's accident did not soften NATO's resolve. It followed a weekend of fighting in which NATO forces claimed to have killed more than 200 Taliban fighters in the Panjwayi area, a hotbed for Taliban resistance. Four Canadian soldiers died in the fighting.
Kim Barker writes for the Chicago Tribune.