SEPT. 7, 2015
U.S. Denies an Airstrike Killed 11 Afghan Narcotics Officers
By ROD NORDLAND and MUJIB MASHAL
KABUL, Afghanistan -- An American airstrike may have mistakenly killed at least 11 narcotics officers in southern Afghanistan on Sunday night, Afghan officials said on Monday. But the American military denied that such an airstrike had taken place.
The deputy interior minister for counternarcotics, Baz Mohammad Ahmadi, said that 11 officers from his agency had been killed and four wounded in an airstrike on an official convoy in the Garmsir District of Helmand Province. In a statement, he said that the convoy had been in the middle of an operation to arrest drug smugglers and that the operation had been coordinated with officials in Kabul and with the Helmand provincial government.
Mr. Ahmadi did not identify who carried out the airstrike. But Najib Danish, the deputy spokesman for the Interior Ministry, said it was by the NATO-led military coalition. Only American warplanes have been known to carry out bombing raids for the coalition in Afghanistan this year.
A police official in Garmsir District, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not permitted to speak to the press, said the narcotics agents had disguised themselves as Taliban, who work closely with drug smugglers in that area. The officers used cars identical to the Taliban's and flew the insurgents' flags on them, he said, which may have fooled American warplanes into attacking. The official put the death toll at 15 officers.
Col. Brian Tribus, a spokesman for the coalition, rebutted the Afghan accounts. "There were no strikes conducted by U.S. or NATO forces in Helmand Province on 6 September," he said. He did confirm that the coalition had conducted airstrikes in Maiwand District of neighboring Kandahar Province that day.
The Americans have been carrying out numerous airstrikes against Taliban positions in northern Helmand Province, in the district of Musa Qala, which fell to the Taliban  on Aug. 26. But that is far away from Garmsir.
Complicating an already murky picture, the police in neighboring Kandahar Province said they had attacked a convoy of insurgents in the same general area on Sunday. Their forces, backed up by helicopter gunships, destroyed six Taliban trucks, according to Omar Zwak, the spokesman for the governor in neighboring Helmand Province.
Mr. Zwak said Helmand officials later expressed concern that some of those trucks may have been those with the narcotics officers. But the Kandahar police denied that, saying only insurgents had been targeted. And Mr. Zwak insisted that attack was separate from the American airstrike on the narcotics officers.
Taimoor Shah contributed reporting from Kandahar, Afghanistan.