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Afghan Officials Say Nine Soldiers Killed In Coalition Air Strike

KHOST, Afghanistan (Reuters) -- Foreign troops killed nine Afghan soldiers in a misdirected air strike in the southeast of the country overnight, the Afghan Defense Ministry said on October 22.

The U.S. military confirmed Afghan soldiers may have been killed and wounded in a case of mistaken identity, but said it did not have any casualty figures.

Scores of Afghan civilians have been killed in air strikes by international troops in Afghanistan this year, Afghan officials say, feeding a perception that NATO-led and U.S. coalition forces do not take enough care when calling in air support.

But it is still rare for foreign troops to hit their allies in the Afghan security forces.

"Nine have been martyred, three wounded, one critically in the attack by international forces," said ministry spokesman Zaher Azimi, who declined to give further details.

However, Lutfullah Babakarkheil, the district chief of Dowa Manda district in Khost Province, put the number of fatalities at eight, with four soldiers wounded.

The Defense Ministry condemned the attack, adding that such incidents would weaken the spirit of the Afghan army and would have a negative effect on the force, which is trained by mostly U.S. troops.

The U.S.-led coalition said its troops "may have mistakenly killed and injured" Afghan National Army (ANA) soldiers after coming under attack while returning from an operation.

"As a coalition convoy was returning from a previous operation, they were involved in multiple engagements. As a result of the engagements, ANA soldiers were killed and injured," the military said in a statement.

"Initial reports from troops on the ground indicate that this may be a case of mistaken identity on both sides," it said, adding that the number of casualties was not yet available.

Violence in Afghanistan has reached its worst level this year since U.S.-led and Afghan forces toppled the Taliban government in late 2001 for refusing to surrender Al-Qaeda leaders behind the September 11 attacks on the United States.