U.S. warplanes mistakenly fired on Canadian troops fighting Taliban forces Monday in southern Afghanistan, killing one soldier and wounding five in an operation that NATO said also has left 200 insurgents dead.
A British soldier attached to NATO and four Afghans also were killed in a suicide vehicle bombing Monday in Kabul, while 16 suspected Taliban militants and five Afghan police were killed elsewhere in the country.
The intense fighting comes amid Afghanistan's deadliest spate of violence since U.S.-led forces toppled the hard-line Taliban regime for hosting al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden after the Sept. 11 attacks.
It also underscored the increased danger to NATO-led multinational forces since they took over control of security in the volatile south from the U.S.-led coalition last month.
Five Canadian soldiers have been killed since an anti-Taliban operation was launched Saturday in southern Kandahar province's Panjwayi district, long a hotbed of insurgent activity. Some 32 Canadian soldiers have been killed in Afghanistan since 2002.
"It is particularly distressing to us all when, despite the care and precautions that are always applied, a tragedy like this happens," said NATO commander Lt. Gen. David Richards.
The "friendly fire" incident happened after ground troops battling Taliban militants requested air support, NATO said.
NATO said 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.
American military spokesman Sgt. Chris Miller confirmed that U.S. planes were involved and said the NATO force can request air support from the U.S.-led coalition.
One Canadian soldier was killed, and five soldiers were wounded and evacuated out of Afghanistan for medical treatment, said NATO spokesman Maj. Scott Lundy. An investigation has been launched.
Meanwhile, a senior British officer said the crew of a British military plane that went down in Afghanistan on Saturday, killing 14, had reported a fire onboard shortly before the crash.
Chief of the Defense Staff Air Chief Marshal Sir Glen Torpy told Britain's Channel 4 News it was possible but unlikely that a Taliban missile had hit the disabled plane as it flew at low altitude. A purported Taliban spokesman had claimed responsibility.
In Kabul, suicide bomber detonated his explosives-laden four-wheel drive alongside a British armored military vehicle, killing a British soldier and four Afghans and wounding three other NATO soldiers, according to British and Afghan officials.
Britain's top army officer said his forces were only just able to cope with the burden of operations in Afghanistan and Iraq.
"We are running hot, certainly running hot. Can we cope? I pause. I say, 'Just,"' Gen. Richard Dannatt, appointed Britain's chief of general staff last week, told Britain's The Guardian newspaper. Thirty-seven British troops have been killed in Afghanistan since November 2001.
The weekend's fatalities increased the total of foreign troops killed in Afghanistan so far this year beyond the 130 who died during all of 2005 an indication of the escalation in violence stemming from the surge in Taliban attacks.
NATO reported that more than 200 Taliban fighters had died in the first two days of Operation Medusa, which began Saturday. The Afghan Defense Ministry, however, said 89 militants were killed. Some 80 other suspected Taliban were arrested by Afghan police and a further 180 fled, NATO said.
The casualty counts could not be independently verified but if confirmed, would represent one of the deadliest combat actions since the Taliban were ousted nearly five years ago.
Authorities have barred citizens from traveling on all but the main road running through that part of Kandahar province, and reporters could not reach the battlefield.
The top Taliban military commander for south and southeastern Afghanistan rejected NATO's claims as propaganda and warned his fighters would "target" journalists who reported "wrong information" given by the U.S.-led coalition or NATO.
"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. The AP reporter has spoken to the Taliban leader in the past and recognized his voice.
Dadullah also claimed that the Taliban had registered 500 Afghans ready to be used as suicide bombers and that Mullah Omar the Taliban's fugitive leader was still the movement's supreme commander.
In neighboring Helmand province, suspected Taliban militants attacked a district headquarters in the town of Garmser, setting off fighting that killed 16 militants and three police, police said.
In Parwan province north of Kabul, militants fatally shot two police, including a senior officer, in the third killing of a top district official in Afghanistan in as many days, an official said.