Afghanistan is investigating reports that at least 16 civilians including women and children were killed in an airstrike in southern Helmand province, the defense ministry said in a statement Friday, January 25.
The reports come as civilian deaths from air strikes have risen sharply in the past year, after the Afghan and U.S. forces intensified their aerial bombardment of Taliban and Islamic State Khorasan Province militants.
Afghan forces backed by U.S. air power were conducting counter-terrorism operations in Sangin district late Wednesday when the air strike was carried out, the ministry and NATO said.
“Some reports have been published that civilians were killed and wounded, and the defense ministry formed a delegation to conduct a serious investigation into the civilian casualties,” the ministry statement said.
A spokesperson for NATO’s Resolute Support mission in Afghanistan told The Defense Post on Wednesday that it had seen the NDS reports and was looking into the situation.
But the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan said the reports of civilian casualties, including children, were “credible,” and that it was also investigating.
“I have got reports from the residents of the area where the strike took place. Sixteen people – 10 children, four women, two men, all civilians – were killed,” Afghan senator Hashim Alkozay told AFP.
Helmand provincial governor Mohammad Yasin said the strike “also hit an adjacent civilian house.”
“A number” of Afghans were killed and wounded, he added.
The strike came as Taliban representatives were meeting with U.S. officials in Qatar this week, with four straight days of discussion raising expectations as both sides seek a way out of the 17-year Afghan conflict.
Civilians continue to pay a disproportionate price in the fighting.
UNAMA says the number of Afghan civilians killed by aerial bombings from January until October 2018 reached a record high of 313, with a further 336 wounded.
The figures represent an increase of 39 percent compared to the same time period in 2017.
UNAMA data shows that in total, 2,798 civilians were killed and 5,252 wounded in the first ten months of 2018.
The Taliban are responsible for about half of civilian casualties, with the remaining deaths attributed to ISKP and coalition strikes, according to the report.
In November, UNAMA said at least 23 civilians, mostly women and children, were killed in a U.S. airstrike in Helmand that was targeting the Taliban.
Afghan 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 this year.
UNAMA is due to publish its full year report on civilian casualties in 2018 next month.
With reporting from AFP