Updated Mon. Sep. 4 2006 1:54 PM ET
CTV.ca News Staff
Two U.S. warplanes accidentally strafed their own NATO forces in southern Afghanistan on Monday, killing one Canadian soldier and seriously wounding five others.
The friendly fire incident occurred around 5:30 a.m. when soldiers trying to seize a Taliban stronghold along the Arghandab River requested air support.
NATO said in a statement that the International Security Assistance Force provided the support but “regrettably engaged friendly forces during a strafing run, using cannons.” It later identified the planes as U.S. A-10 Thunderbolts.
One Canadian soldier was killed, said NATO spokesman Maj. Scott Lundy, while five were seriously wounded and evacuated out of Afghanistan for medical treatment.
“It was a scene of absolute chaos this morning at the airport near the hospital. We were there as helicopter after helicopter ferried in the wounded,” CTV’s Matt McClure reported from Kandahar.
The identity of the soldier killed in the friendly fire incident was not released.
“This has been a tough hit, but Canadians are continuing the fight and continuing with operation Medusa,” Brig.-Gen. David Fraser, the Canadian in charge of NATO forces in southern Afghanistan, said in a statement released Monday.
Fraser told reporters that an investigation has been launched.
“We do have procedures, we do have communications, we do have training and tactics and techniques and procedures to mitigate the risk but we can’t reduce those risks to zero,” he said in a news conference at Kandahar Airfield.
“The Canadian forces and the rest of armed forces of the world and the international community wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t dangerous.”
Monday’s friendly fire incident was the second such incident since Canadians began operations in Afghanistan more than four years ago.
Four soldiers were killed and eight others wounded in April 2002 when an American F-16 fighter mistakenly bombed Canadians on pre-dawn training exercise.
The friendly fire death comes just one day after another four Canadian soldiers were killed and six wounded during Operation Medusa, a mission aimed at purging militants from the Taliban stronghold of the Panjwai district west of Kandahar.
Two of the dead were identified Sunday as Warrant Officer Frank Mellish and Warrant Officer Richard Nolan, both of 1st Battalion, Royal Canadian Regiment, based at CFB Petawawa, Ont.
The third was identified Monday as Sgt. Shane Stachnik of 2 Combat Engineer Regiment based in Petawawa.
The name of the fourth was still being withheld at the request of the family.
The battle continues
The past two days’ deaths occurred as part of Operation Medusa, aimed at purging Taliban insurgents from the dangerous Panjwaii area, the site of intense fighting in recent weeks.
Taliban insurgents put up a stiff fight, using small arms and rocket propelled grenades to defend their positions.
Despite the casualties, NATO officials are maintaining that the offensive has been a success, estimating that 200 Taliban militants had been killed and 80 seized.
But a Taliban leader in south and southeastern Afghanistan rejected those claims as propaganda.
“They are saying that they have killed 200 Taliban but they did not kill even 10,” Mullah Dadullah told the Associated Press in a satellite phone call from an undisclosed location.
Dadullah also warned that his fighters would “target” journalists who reported “wrong information.”
The latest fatalities came as NDP Leader Jack Layton repeated his call for ending the Afghanistan mission in February 2007.
“Young people have stepped forward to put their lives on the line, fulfilling a mission that they were asked to fulfill,” Layton told reporters in Toronto.
“What we as Canadians need to do is consider whether this is indeed the right mission for Canada going forward. Our view is that it is the wrong mission.”
Prime Minister Stephen Harper did not address the possibility of a troop withdrawal in a statement on Sunday, in which he offered his condolences to the friends and families of those killed.
“We are proud of these soldiers’ contribution to bring stability and hope to the people of Afghanistan,” said Harper.
“These soldiers lost their lives in the service of their country. Canada is grateful for that service, and saddened by this loss.”
In total, 32 Canadian soldiers and one diplomat have been killed in Afghanistan since 2002.
With files from The Canadian Press and The Associated Press