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Friendly fire blamed in 5 soldiers' deaths

One of the five American soldiers killed in Afghanistan Monday night has been identified as a 19-year-old from Illinois.

The family of Aaron Toppen have revealed that they were informed he had been killed in southern Zabul province, the Daily Mail of London reported.

The incident, which reportedly saw a B-1 Lancer strategic bomber accidentally drop its payload in the wrong place, is being called the deadliest case of friendly fire since the war began nearly 13 years ago,

In California, family members told the Merced Sun-Star that Terry Hurne, 34, was among those killed, just a few weeks before he was scheduled to return home.

“He couldn’t discuss what he was doing over there. He was looking forward to getting out of there,” his father, Norman Hurne, told the newspaper.

The five servicemen were killed during a security operation, Afghan police and the Pentagon said on Tuesday.

The men died when their unit, part of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), clashed with insurgents.

Local police chief Ghulam Sakhi Roghlewanai said: “The five killed were American soldiers who just returned from an operation when they were hit.

“ISAF troops were returning to their bases after an operation when they were ambushed by the insurgents. The air strike mistakenly hit their own forces and killed the soldiers.”

A Pentagon statement said investigators were “looking into the likelihood that friendly fire was the cause. Our thoughts and prayers are with the families of these fallen.”

A spokesman for the Islamist Taliban, Qari Yousuf Ahmadi, said insurgents had been attacking the foreign forces when the helicopters intervened and accidentally killed their own troops.

On April 26, five NATO troops were killed in a British helicopter crash in southern Afghanistan, the deadliest day for the U.S.-led coalition in months.

On Dec. 17, six U.S. troops were killed after a Black Hawk helicopter was shot down in Zabul province.

Reuters reported Tuesday that Taliban insurgents kidnapped 35 professors from Kandahar University after stopping their van on the highway linking the southern province and Kabul, a spokesman for provincial governor said.

“The professors were on their way to the capital when they were abducted and tribal elders are now involved in negotiating with the Taliban,” Dawa Khan Minapal said by telephone.

Security is being ramped up in Afghanistan ahead of Saturday’s run-off vote to replace President Hamid Karzai.

The poll pits Abdullah Abdullah, a former leader of the opposition to the Taliban, against former Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani.


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