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Wednesday, September 06, 2006

NATO adviser vows friendly-fire probe

NATO's top military adviser is defending its massive anti-Taliban operation and has promised an investigation into the mistaken air attack that killed a Canadian soldier and wounded dozens of others in Afghanistan.

The announcement of the probe came Tuesday as five more Canadian soldiers were injured.

Military officials say the five Canadians were not seriously injured when their light armoured vehicles came under mortar attack around 6:30 p.m. local time west of Kandahar.

The Canadians returned fire and called in NATO air strikes. Several buildings were seen in flames.

The report comes after the deaths of five Canadian soldiers Sunday and Monday during battles in the same anti-Taliban campaign — Operation Medusa — in the Panjwaii district, west of Kandahar city.

Four soldiers died during a battle with the Taliban on Sunday, while one died Monday when two U.S. A-10 Thunderbolts mistakenly strafed a Canadian platoon that had called for air support.

About 30 Canadian soldiers were wounded in the incident, including five who were flown to a U.S. military hospital in Landstuhl, Germany.

The bodies of the five dead soldiers are expected to arrive in Canada late Wednesday.

NATO vows probe

NATO Chief Military Adviser Gen. Ray Henault, a Canadian, has promised an investigation into Monday's incident when Operation Medusa is over, but he didn't say when that would happen.

"These situations are difficult, identifications of people on the ground are sometimes difficult from the air," he said.

"Mistakes are made and in this case, a misidentification occurred for a reason that we will learn ultimately."

He promised that once NATO learns what went wrong, it will put safeguards in place to ensure it doesn't happen again.

A board of American military officers is also investigating the incident, which a top U.S. general called a tragedy.

"The death or injury of each and every coalition member is a tragedy that saddens us, our families and the military and civilian members of the coalition," Lt.-Gen. Gary North, the commander of U.S. Central Command Air Forces, said in a statement.

Operation working: Henault

Henault defended Operation Medusa, saying it is achieving its goal of driving Taliban militants out of southern Afghanistan.

A NATO spokesperson said as many as 60 Taliban militants were killed on Tuesday, the fourth day of the military campaign that the alliance says has already killed more than 200 Taliban.

Mullah Dadullah, the Taliban military commander for southern Afghanistan, has rejected NATO's claims of more than 200 dead.

Taliban spokesperson Qari Yousaf Ahmadi also denied NATO claims that 700 Taliban fighters have been cornered in a small region in Panjwaii and Zhari.

Canadian Press

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