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Foreign air strike kills 2 Afghan soldiers

KABUL (Reuters) - Afghanistan’s Defence Ministry on Wednesday condemned an air strike by foreign forces which it said killed two Afghan soldiers and wounded five more south of Kabul.

Civilian casualties and “friendly fire” deaths among Afghan security forces have been a frequent source of friction between President Hamid Karzai’s government and Western military forces in a war now in its tenth year.

The latest incident took place on Tuesday afternoon in the village of Bangram in the Charkh district of Logar province, the ministry said in a statement.

“As a result of a bombardment by international forces ... two soldiers ... were martyred and five were wounded,” it said.

“The Defence Ministry condemns this incident and a joint delegation has been created to investigate the cause and will announce its findings.”

A spokeswoman for the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Kabul said a team had been sent to investigate the incident but declined to comment further.

Violence in Afghanistan is at its worst since the Taliban were overthrown in late 2001 with record casualties on all sides of the conflict. At least 2,250 foreign troops have died since the war started, about 680 of them in 2010 alone.

Afghan troops and police have suffered far higher casualties, although exact casualty figures are not provided by the government.

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Ordinary Afghans have borne the brunt of the fighting as they become caught in the crossfire. According to U.N. figures, 1,271 civilians were killed in the first six months of this year, a 21 percent jump on the same period in 2009.

International military commanders have tightened the rules for calling in air strikes in recent years and there has been a drop in the number of civilian casualties in such raids.

The latest deaths come as U.S. Defence Secretary Robert Gates is on a visit to Afghanistan, where he will meet Karzai as well as U.S. and NATO commanders. Gates’s visit comes only days before Washington is set to review its strategy of the war.

In July, five Afghan soldiers were accidentally killed and two wounded in a pre-dawn NATO air strike in Ghazni province, southwest of Kabul, which also prompted a rebuke from the Afghan Defence Ministry.

Such incidents are not uncommon and are not only limited to foreign troops killing Afghans.

On Sunday, ISAF said it was investigating a possible friendly-fire incident in Helmand where one ISAF service member may have been killed by coalition forces air support during an operation in Nad Ali district.

Editing by Paul Tait and Andrew Marshall