Afghan officials launched an investigation into claims at least 14 civilians were killed in a military ground operation targeting Islamic State in their stronghold in the eastern Nangarhar province.
Following Tuesday night’s raid by Afghan special forces in Rodat district of Nangarhar province, scores of protesters temporarily blocked a major highway linking Afghanistan and Pakistan to demand action against those responsible for the attack.
Sultan Mohammad, who was among the protesters, told AFP on Wednesday, October 24 that 14 people were killed in the operation and four others were wounded.
Local elder Najibullah Amarkhil put the death toll slightly higher at 16, including women and children.
“Government forces raided several houses – they killed 14 people, including a six-month-old baby,” Amarkhil told AFP, adding two more died from their wounds in hospital.
“We demand the government punish those responsible.”
Afghan broadcaster Tolo News said the death toll was “at least 17.”
Images posted on Tolo’s Twitter account purportedly showed dozens of men crowded around the bodies of victims under a tent next to the highway connecting the Nangarhar provincial capital of Jalalabad with Torkham, one of the major border crossings into Pakistan.
Provincial governor spokesman Attaullah Khogyani confirmed there had been casualties in the operation and said an official probe was under way.
“A delegation has been sent to the area to investigate the incident and report back to us,” Khogyani told AFP.
ISKP, a smaller but potent rival of the Taliban, emerged in the region in 2014 and quickly established a heavy presence in Afghanistan’s east before expanding north.
Ordinary Afghans have borne the brunt of the 17-year war, which is on track to be deadlier than Syria in 2018.
Civilians continue to face “extreme levels of harm,” a recent United Nations report said, with 8,050 people killed or wounded in the January to September period.
Violence has intensified in the past year as U.S. and Afghan forces step up ground and air offensives against Taliban and ISKP insurgents.
In September, a U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan report found that an airstrike in Wardak province killed 12 members of an Afghan family, most of them children.
UNAMA expressed its “strong concern” at the rising number of civilian casualties from air strikes this year.
Air strikes killed or wounded 353 civilians in the first half, up 52 percent from the same period in 2017. The figure accounted for roughly seven percent of total civilian casualties for the six-month period.
One of the worst incidents was in Kunduz in April, when an Afghan air strike on an outdoor religious gathering in Dasht-e-Archi killed or wounded 107 people, mostly children, a previous UNAMA report found.
With reporting from AFP