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Afghan Deaths Highlight Lack of Tracking Tech

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At about 4 a.m. Wednesday, NATO warplanes dropped precision-guided munitions on a band of Afghans who seemed like militants in the provincial district of Andor. Instead, the bombs hit a unit of Afghan soldiers. Now, at least five of the soldiers are dead. And if early indications are right, the tragedy was utterly preventable; all NATO had to do was give their Afghan allies a few pieces of simple gear.

An incident team is on the ground as of this writing to assess what actually happened. But a NATO spokesman, Josef Blotz, offered this preliminary explanation: “The reason for this is perhaps a coordination issue…. We were obviously not absolutely clear whether there were Afghan national security forces in the area.”

Technology has largely resolved these miscommunications among the United States and its NATO allies. All kinds of tools are now used to prevent so-called “friendly fire” incidents--from simple reflective tags to GPS beacons and digital maps. But NATO apparently doesn’t trust its Afghan allies with the tech. There’s “a very real issue with illiteracy” among Afghan soldiers, a NATO officer tells Danger Room, making it doubtful that they’d be able to manage or maintain “sensitive technical equipment.”

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