A firefight broke out between U.S. forces and their Afghan army allies in eastern Afghanistan Sunday, killing two Americans and three Afghan soldiers and pushing the number of U.S. troops killed in the long-running war 2,000.
The fighting started Saturday when what is believed to have been a mortar fired by insurgents struck a checkpoint set up by U.S. forces in Wardak province, said Shahidullah Shahid, a provincial government spokesman. He said the Americans thought they were under attack from a nearby Afghan army checkpoint and fired on it, prompting the Afghan soldiers to return fire.
The Afghan Defense Ministry said the gunbattle was the result of a “misunderstanding” between international forces and Afghan soldiers manning a checkpoint in the Sayd Abad district.
NATO’s International Security Assistance Force, commonly referred to as ISAF, provided a different account.
“After a short conversation took place between (Afghan army) and ISAF personnel firing occurred which resulted in the fatal wounding of an ISAF soldier and the death of his civilian colleague,” the coalition said in a statement. It said the three Afghan soldiers died “in an ensuing exchange of fire.”
NATO did not say whether it considered this an “insider” attack on foreign forces by Afghan allies.
There has been rising tide of such attacks in which Afghan soldiers or police assault their international allies. The killings pose one of the greatest threats to NATO’s mission in the country, endangering a partnership key to training up Afghan security forces and withdrawing international troops.
While it may be days before it becomes clear who fired on whom first, the incident illustrates how tense relations have become between international troops and their Afghan allies.
Officials on both sides went into damage control mode, arguing that Saturday’s violence did not mark a new low in Afghan-U.S. relations and urging patience while investigators tried to figure out exactly what had happened.