Five U.S. Special Operation soldiers and at least one Afghan soldier were killed in southern Afghanistan late Monday when an errant airstrike struck their position during a skirmish with Taliban forces.
As the New York Times reports:
The incident occurred Monday night in Zabul Province as coalition and Afghan troops were conducting security operations prior to the presidential runoff election scheduled for Saturday, said Ghulam Sakhi Roghliwanai, the province’s police chief. As the mission drew to a close, Taliban militants ambushed the fighters, prompting them to call for close air support, Mr. Roghliwanai said.
The aircraft accidentally struck the position of the American soldiers, killing five of them along with at least one Afghan soldier. The incident took place in the province’s restive Arghandab district.
Airstrikes have long been a point of contention between the government of Afghanistan and the coalition forces, most often due to civilian casualties in villages or areas with a high concentration of insurgents. President Hamid Karzai has grown increasingly frustrated over such deaths, and has refused to sign a security agreement with the United States until it ceases air attacks of any kind.
According to government statistics, 2,323 U.S. soldiers have died since the U.S. invaded Afghanistan in 2001. Once confirmed, these latest soldiers killed will bring that number up to 2,328. According to the Costs of War website, at least 21,000 Afghan civilians have been killed in the same time period.
In a recent speech at West Point, President Obama vowed to leave a substantial troop presence in the country for at least several more years. So far, despite the recent prisoner exchange between the U.S. and the Taliban, in which Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl was traded for five captured Taliban members, no significant progress has been made towards reaching a settlement for lasting peace.
The war in Afghanistan is now the longest in U.S. history, with no discernible end in sight.