NATO air strike kills seven Afghan police

KUNDUZ: A NATO air strike mistakenly killed seven Afghan police and wounded two others in northern Afghanistan on Thursday, hospital and government officials said.

The NATO-run International Security Assistance Force confirmed an "incident" but a spokesman told AFP the military was "still tracking down what happened" in Kunduz province, where Taliban violence has recently picked up.

"Around 2:30 pm (1000 GMT), an Afghan army, police and NATO patrol were attacked by Taliban in Imam Sahib district," Afghan interior ministry spokesman Zemarai Bashary told AFP in the capital Kabul.

NATO called in an air strike and "the Afghan forces were bombed by mistake," the spokesman said.

"Seven policemen were killed, including two officers, and two policemen were wounded," he said.

The director of the main hospital in Kunduz, Noor Ull-Haq Hakimi, confirmed that the bodies of seven policemen were brought in along with two who were wounded after the incident.

The local government confirmed the incident but was unable to say whether police had been killed or wounded.

In the south, 15,000 US, NATO and Afghan forces pressing a major offensive against a key Taliban bastion, where commanders say progress has been slowed by hidden bombs and militants hiding behind human shields.

Civilian casualties are a sensitive issue in Afghanistan, where the government of President Hamid Karzai and his backers in the West are trying to win a war of perceptions in defeating an eight-year Taliban insurgency.

While the overwhelming majority of civilian deaths and injuries are caused by Taliban attacks -- which include suicide bombings -- ordinary people often blame the deaths on the presence of foreign forces.

The United States and NATO have more than 120,000 troops fighting the insurgency, with the number set to rise to 150,000 by August under President Barack Obama's surge, most of them being deployed to the troubled south.

Despite measures to avoid harming civilians -- such as an order by US General Stanley McChrystal, commander of foreign troops, to limit air strikes -- at least nine civilians were killed by a NATO rocket strike on Monday.