Afghan policemen killed in U.S. airstrike: officials

LASHKAR GAH, Afghanistan (Reuters) - At least three Afghan policemen were killed and two wounded when an American military aircraft opened fire during an operation in southern Afghanistan, officials said on Saturday.

The so-called “friendly fire” incident occurred overnight, during a raid in Afghanistan’s restive Helmand province, the U.S. military command in Kabul said in a statement.

The officers, members of the Afghan Border Police, were killed when a U.S. aircraft “returned fire” during the operation, which included Afghan and American special forces, a military spokesman said.

“We would like to express our deepest condolences to the families of the ABP members affected by this unfortunate incident,” the statement said.

Omar Zwak, a spokesman for the Helmand governor, put the toll at three policemen killed and two wounded.

Both Afghan and American officials said they were investigating the incident.

Taliban insurgents have made widespread gains in Helmand, seizing many of the province’s districts and threatening the provincial capital of Lashkar Gah.

Hundreds of U.S. Marines recently arrived in Helmand to take over an advising mission as part of the NATO-led coalition training and assisting Afghan forces.

American troops, including special forces, also carry out separate counterterrorism missions.

Airstrikes by American warplanes have greatly increased in recent months, as U.S. President Donald Trump considers requests from military commanders for thousands more international troops.

Afghanistan has suffered a string of violent attacks in recent weeks after the Taliban launched their spring offensive, including attacks in the capital city of Kabul that killed and wounded hundreds.

On Friday night, identified gunmen opened fire at a mosque in the eastern province of Paktia, killing three civilians and wounding nine others, the Afghan Interior Ministry said in a statement.

Writing by Josh Smith; Editing by Shri Navaratnam