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U.S.-Led Afghan Coalition Defends Air Strikes After Britons' Deaths

(RFE/RL) August 25, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- The U.S.-led coalition in Afghanistan is defending its use of air power, one day after a U.S. warplane mistakenly dropped a bomb on coalition forces, killing three British soldiers.

An F-15 aircraft dropped a single, 226-kilogram bomb after British troops called for air strikes during an intense battle on August 23 with Taliban insurgents northwest of Kajaki, a militant hotspot in southern Helmand Province.

U.S. and British military officials say they are investigating the incident.

Regrettable Incident

German Colonel Martin Schelleis, acting chief spokesman of NATO's mission in Afghanistan, told a Kabul news conference today that while the "friendly fire" incident is regrettable, the air strikes remain a key part of coalition efforts.

"The soldiers were part of a patrol that was attacked by insurgents and during the intense engagement that followed, the team requested close air support, which is a key component of our joint ground-air operations," Schelleis said. "A single bomb was dropped by a U.S. aircraft, and it’s probable that the soldiers were killed by the subsequent explosion. Two other soldiers were injured."

Coalition air strikes have in the past mistakenly caused Afghan civilian casualties, and the latest incident was the not the first case of friendly fire involving coalition aircraft.

In 2002, four Canadian soldiers were killed when a U.S. warplane mistakenly bombed their live-fire training exercise near Kandahar. And in 2006, a coalition bomb mistakenly dropped killed 10 Afghan National Police officers in the southeast.

(RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan, agencies)