Afghanistan probes reported deaths of dozens of civilians in air strikes

Ashraf Ghani
Ashraf Ghani

Ashraf Ghani

:: Afghanistan’s government is said to have ordered an investigation into reports of dozens of civilian deaths in an anti-Taliban joint offensive by Afghan and US troops in northern Kunduz province.

The US-led coalition said it was assessing the reports of heavy civilian casualties in the province that lies near the border with Tajkistan and is regarded as the most volatile in the north.

The operations on Friday and Saturday targeted suspected Taliban positions in various villages of Char Dara district, infested for long by the guerrillas, according to villagers and lawmakers from Kunduz.

There were conflicting figures about the number of civilians killed, with few putting the toll as high as 60.

“Civilians were forced to retrieve the bodies of the Taliban and were hit. There are casualties among civilians,” Amruddin, a member of the provincial council, told News Agency from Kunduz by phone.

The defense ministry confirmed locals’ accounts on the launch of operations on Friday and Saturday but, citing the top army general from the area, said more than 50 militants had been killed.

The ministry’s chief spokesman Dawlat Waziri said if there had been civilian deaths, the Taliban may have taken shelter in their homes during the operations.

The US-led military said it knew about the allegations of potential civilian casualties and was assessing it.

One health official from Kunduz who spoke on condition of anonymity told News Agency that the aerial attacks were more sustained and powerful than 2015 and 2016, when the Taliban captured the center of Kunduz twice from the government forces.

Scores of civilians, including more than 40 staff and patients of the French-run hospital, lost their lives in the US aerial attacks in 2015 and last year. And since, there have been reports of more civilian deaths in various others sporadic operations.

The US has further increased its aerial attacks this year in Afghanistan, with civilian casualties jumping by 52 percent in the first nine months of 2017, according to a United Nations report.

Civilian casualties have been one of the biggest friction points between the former President Hamid Karzai and the coalition since the ousting of the Taliban in 2001 as the losses create further bridges between the public and the government.

In a tweet he called the attacks “an atrocity against the Afghan people.”

But President Ashraf Ghani’s government has largely remained silent about the matter since assuming power more than three years ago.

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