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News Wrap: Investigation launched into friendly fire deaths of five U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan

June 10, 2014 at 6:02 PM EDT
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JUDY WOODRUFF: The international coalition in Afghanistan launched an investigation today after five U.S. special operations soldiers were killed, apparently by friendly-fire.

It happened in Zabul province in the south, and may be one of the worst such incidents in almost 14 years of the Afghan war.

For more, I spoke earlier with NPR reporter Sean Carberry, who’s in Kabul.

Sean Carberry, thank you very much for talking with us.

What is known exactly about what happened?

SEAN CARBERRY, NPR: Well, U.S. special operations forces and Afghan forces were carrying out a clearing operation in Zabul province, which is one of the more unsecured provinces in the country.

And according to Afghan officials, when the troops were on their way back to the base from this operation, it came under attack by Taliban militants. At that point, they called in for air support, and the airstrike apparently hit the friendly forces, killing five U.S. troops and one Afghan force.

NATO and U.S. officials have not officially confirmed that it was a friendly-fire incident. They have indicated they’re investigating that. However, Afghan officials said the airstrike hit the friendly forces, again, killing five U.S. and one Afghan troops.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So it’s not confirmed, but it sounds like the evidence points to friendly-fire. Is it known what type aircraft?

SEAN CARBERRY: Reports are that it was a B-1 bomber, so this is not an Apache helicopter or a gunship or something like that. So, this was most likely heavy munitions, a heavy bomb that would have been dropped in this instance.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Sean, we’re just a few days away from the presidential election runoff there in Afghanistan. What is the security situation there overall? You’re in Kabul.

SEAN CARBERRY: Well, security has tightened.

In the last few days, we have seen an increase in the number of checkpoints around the city. Security officials have said that they’re now on essentially high alert going into the elections. In terms of the security incidents, there haven’t been as many as people have been expecting. There have been fewer attacks than there were in the run-up to the first round of voting in April.

However, last weekend, militants did carry out a suicide attack against presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah. He and his entourage survived. But that’s the most high-profile attack we have seen, but officials are expecting more violence for election day this year because it’s coming in peak fighting season, whereas the first round was at the tail end of spring and, at that point, the thaw hadn’t happened. Fighters weren’t as active at that point.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Sean Carberry, we thank you very much, talking to us from Kabul.

SEAN CARBERRY: You’re welcome, Judy.

JUDY WOODRUFF: U.S. officials in Washington declined comment on the incident, saying they are waiting for the investigation.

GWEN IFILL: Gunmen in Pakistan attacked a police training facility today near the Karachi Airport. It followed Sunday night’s Taliban assault that killed 26 people at the airport itself.

Today’s incident forced a temporary suspension of flights and triggered a brief shoot-out with security forces. But airport officials downplayed its severity.

AZAM KHAN, Director General, Airport Security Force (through interpreter): The wrong word was used, that there was an attack. There was no such situation. There was a firing incident, which was within our capability to manage. However, the word attack was used by the media, which created panic. You saw the response, police, rangers, army. Everyone was immediately here.

GWEN IFILL: The Taliban said it was also behind today’s attack and warned of more violence to come.

JUDY WOODRUFF: In Syria, infighting between an al-Qaida-linked group and other rebel factions has taken a heavy toll in recent weeks. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported today more than 630 people have been killed in the east, near the Iraqi border, since the end of April. At least 130,000 others have fled the region.

GWEN IFILL:
There was more fallout in Congress today over that prisoner swap that freed Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl in Afghanistan. The Senate’s number two Democrat, Dick Durbin of Illinois, said there was no time to notify lawmakers in advance because the deal to free five Guantanamo detainees in exchange for Bergdahl was finalized just one day before it happened.

But Republican Jeff Sessions rejected that reasoning after a closed briefing by defense officials.

SEN. JEFF SESSIONS, R, Ala.: I’m not satisfied in any way that Congress shouldn’t have been consulted in this matter. Just as a matter of courtesy, whether it was in law or not, a matter of this importance should have been discussed with at least key leaders in the Congress.

GWEN IFILL: Democratic Senator Carl Levin of Michigan came out of that same briefing, saying military leaders supported the prisoner swap.

SEN. CARL LEVIN, D, Mich.: Armed Services Committee Chairman: What the media has not carried, I think, is the critical question: Do our top military uniformed leaders support this agreement? Did they — were they involved in it? They assured me they were. And did they support it? They assure me they strongly support it because of the ethos of getting our people back.

GWEN IFILL: The House begins hearings on the Bergdahl release tomorrow. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel will testify before the Armed Services Committee.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The House has voted unanimously to make it easier for veterans to get in to see doctors. The bill that passed today would pay for vets to get care outside the Veterans Affairs system, if they have had long waits or if they live more than 40 miles from a VA hospital. A similar bill is pending in the Senate.

GWEN IFILL:
Crew members of the South Korea ferry that sank in April appeared in court today at an emotional hearing. Relatives of the more than 300 who died in the sinking wrestled with officials and packed the courtroom. Some shouted “murderer” when the captain entered. The 15 crew members face charges ranging from negligence to homicide for abandoning the ship.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And this is primary election day for six more states. Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia are both expected to hold off Tea Party challengers. Primaries are also scheduled in Maine, Nevada, and North Dakota; and Arkansas is holding a series of runoffs.

GWEN IFILL: Wall Street had a relatively quiet day. The Dow Jones industrial average gained not quite three points to close near 16,946. The Nasdaq rose more than one point to close at 4,338. And the S&P 500 slipped half-a-point to end at 1,950.