NATO probes possible friendly-fire death of British soldier

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NATO and Britain said Monday they were investigating whether friendly fire caused the weekend death of a British soldier in southern Afghanistan.

NATO's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) said it was "investigating a possible friendly-fire incident" in Helmand province after announcing that a soldier died on Sunday as a result of an "insurgent attack".

"An ISAF servicemember may have been killed from coalition forces air support during an operation in Nad Ali district," ISAF said.

"Afghan and coalition forces were engaged with enemy forces and requested close air support to suppress the enemy fire. In the subsequent contact, an ISAF servicemember was killed," the force said.

The British defence ministry said the soldier was from the 3rd Battalion Parachute Regiment and that the incident would be "the subject of a full investigation".

British military spokesman Lieutenant Colonel David Eastman had said on Sunday the soldier was "shot and subsequently died of his wounds".

The death brought to 346 the number of British troops killed in Afghanistan since the 2001 US-led invasion that brought down the Taliban regime in the wake of the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States.

Britain has almost 10,000 troops in the war-ravaged country, the second largest contingent after the United States, with most of them deployed in Helmand, the heart of Afghanistan's illegal opium trade.

The military announced separately that two NATO soldiers were killed on Monday in the south, the main battlefield against the Taliban.

At least 680 foreign soldiers have been killed in the Afghan war so far this year, by far the bloodiest toll in the nine-year conflict, according to an AFP tally based on that tracked by the independent website.

Last year 521 foreign troops were killed.

NATO said Monday that forces would fight through the bitter Afghan winter to step up the pressure on the Taliban in their south and eastern strongholds.

"We're making progress and now it is about holding on this progress," Brigadier General Josef Blotz told a news conference in Kabul.

"This progress is not irreversible yet."

The Afghan winter usually sees a decrease in fighting due to freezing temperatures, heavy snowfall and because militants head to more temperate climes, notably in neighbouring Pakistan.

© 2010 AFP

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