U.S.-led troops and Afghan forces killed nine police officers Sunday, calling in airstrikes and fighting on the ground for four hours after both sides mistook the other for militants, Afghan officials said.
In a separate incident, NATO said it accidentally killed at least four Afghan civilians Saturday night. A NATO soldier also was killed in the east.
The two cases of accidental killings could further undercut popular support for the government and foreign forces operating here. President Hamid Karzai has pleaded with the U.S. and other nations fighting resurgent militants to avoid civilian casualties.
Al-Maliki aide disputes story
Iraq Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki says U.S. troops should leave “as soon as possible,” according to a magazine report, and he called presidential candidate Barack Obama’s suggestion of 16 months “the right time frame for a withdrawal.”
In Baghdad, however, the chief spokesman for al-Maliki issued a statement Sunday saying the prime minister’s comments were “not conveyed accurately” by Germany’s Der Spiegel magazine.
Spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said al-Maliki did not endorse a specific timetable, but instead discussed “an Iraqi vision” of U.S. troop withdrawals based on negotiations with Washington and “in the light of the continuing positive developments on the ground.”
Al-Qaida shifting, Petraeus says
After intense U.S. assaults, al-Qaida may be considering shifting focus to its original home base in Afghanistan, where American casualties are running higher than in Iraq, the top U.S. commander in Iraq said Saturday.
“We do think that there is some assessment ongoing as to the continued viability of al-Qaida’s fight in Iraq,” Gen. David Petraeus said at his office at the U.S. Embassy.
Whatever the result, Petraeus said, no one should expect al-Qaida to give up entirely in Iraq.
“They’re not going to abandon Iraq. They’re not going to write it off. None of that. But what they certainly may do is start to provide some of those resources that would have come to Iraq to Pakistan, possibly Afghanistan.”