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U.S. plane kills 3 Brits in Afghan bomb error

It is the first time friendly fire has killed British troops in the country.

Published August 25, 2007


KABUL, Afghanistan - A U.S. warplane mistakenly dropped a 500-pound bomb on British troops after they called for air support in Afghanistan, killing three soldiers and seriously wounding two others.

Friendly fire involving U.S. troops has led to the deaths of three British servicemen in the Iraq war, but the incident Thursday night was the first confirmed case between the two forces in Afghanistan. British officials said they were investigating the error, which comes amid growing concerns about civilian deaths from U.S. airstrikes.

The troops were patrolling northwest of Kajaki, a militant hot spot in southern Helmand province, when they were attacked by Taliban fighters, Britain's Ministry of Defense said in a statement.

"During the intense engagement that ensued, close air support was called in from two U.S. F-15 aircraft to repel the enemy. One bomb was dropped and it is believed the explosion killed the three soldiers," it said.

In Washington, a Pentagon official said initial reports were that the airstrike was called in by a British forward air controller. The forward controller is usually the person on the ground, who has the target area in sight and directs an aircraft to attack, giving target coordinates and ensuring that friendly forces are not in the way.

The incident has to be investigated to try to learn where the problem arose, the official told the Associated Press on condition of anonymity, because he was not authorized to speak on the record.

Said Lt. Col. Charlie Mayo, a spokesman for British troops in Helmand: "There are a handful of different reasons why this tragic incident has happened, and we are not in a position at the moment - and I don't think we will be for some time - to find out exactly what has happened."

British Defense Secretary Des Browne declined to speculate on the cause of the friendly fire, which took place about 6:30 p.m. He said he did not want "to get into a situation where we are blaming each other."

Kurt Volker, U.S. principal deputy assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs, said the United States was deeply saddened by the deaths.

Britain has about 7,000 troops in Afghanistan, most based in Helmand, the world's leading supplier of opium. The troops have been battling militants in Kajaki, where repairs are taking place on a hydroelectric dam that could supply close to 2-million Afghans with electricity.

The deaths bring to 73 the number of British personnel killed in the country since the U.S.-led invasion in November 2001.

[Last modified August 24, 2007, 23:04:07]

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