Afghan policemen check a vehicle on a roadside in Ghazni province, Afghanistan,… (Naweed Haqjoo / EPA )
KABUL, Afghanistan -- A NATO airstrike killed four policemen and two civilians on a rural road in Afghanistan’s eastern Ghazni province, Afghan officials said Thursday.
Fazel Ahmad Tolwak, governor of Deyak district, said the four police had attended a memorial ceremony for a deceased villager Wednesday and, on the way back, gave a ride to several members of the Taliban and two members of Tolwak’s family.
The police let the Taliban off, while the civilians remained in the vehicle, he said. The NATO aircraft apparently saw the Taliban riding in the vehicle and assumed they were still there, Tolwak said. He said he didn’t know why the Taliban were riding with the police.
Tolwak said the airstrike was not called by Afghan security forces as some had reported, but by a NATO patrol a few miles away that had come under attack from Taliban fighters, leading to the apparent case of mistaken identity.
Fazel Ahmad Sabawon, spokesman for the governor of Ghazni province, said, “The police were in civilian clothes and may have been mistaken for Taliban fighters.”
Officials with the U.S.-led North Atlantic Treaty Organization force said they were investigating the incident.
President Hamid Karzai has been strongly critical of civilian deaths at the hands of coalition forces, a controversy among the Afghan public. In February, he ordered Afghan security forces not to call for air support after an airstrike killed 10 civilians, although it’s not clear whether the policy has been enforced.
On Wednesday, Taliban gunmen and suicide bombers killed more than 40 civilians in a court complex over an eight-hour period in western Farah province. The death toll was the highest in Afghanistan resulting from a single attack since December 2011 when a Shia Muslim shrine was bombed in Kabul, killing 80 people.
The International Security Agency Force, or ISAF, also reported Thursday that a coalition pilot died after his plane crashed Wednesday in eastern Afghanistan. The wreckage has been located and the body recovered, it added in a statement. Initial reports indicate there was no insurgent activity in the area, although an investigation is underway.
The coalition didn’t immediately identify the nationality of the pilot, in line with its policy.
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Hashmat Baktash in the Kabul bureau contributed to this report.