At least 13 civilians were killed in an airstrike in Kunduz province, residents claimed on Saturday, adding that the airstrike was carried out by Afghan and foreign forces.
The residents said the airstrike was conducted in the Taloka and Tap-e-Khowak Pak villages on the outskirts of Kunduz city on Friday night.
“A plane came and bombed the area and martyred 13 members of one family last night at around 1am,” a resident of Kunduz said.
“The forces only targeted civilians,” another resident claimed. “We want to know that why they target the people while they know Taliban’s place?”
The residents said they wanted to take the bodies to the governor’s office but they were not allowed by security forces.
“At the moment, we have 13 martyrs, all of them all civilians including children and women. You can see that what foreign and local forces brought to our people,” a relative of the victims said on condition of anonymity.
One member of Kunduz Provincial Council, meanwhile, called on government to address the issue.
“Those who lived in the area have been displaced from Dasht-e-Archi district (in Kunduz). The 13 victims were members two families,” said Mawlawi Khosh Mohammad, member of Kunduz Provincial Council.
Ministry of Defense (MoD) in a statement said that at least 58 Taliban insurgents including their commanders were killed during a joint airstrike in northern provinces.
According to the statement, four commando soldiers lost their lives and five others were wounded during the operations.
The statement did not mention civilian casualties in the operations.
Meanwhile, a Resolute Support spokesperson said Taliban are hiding their casualties by accusing ANDSF and coalition of causing civilian casualties.
“Afghan security forces, accompanied by a small advisory team, conducted an operation near Kunduz City. The villagers around Kunduz City requested support from the Afghan security forces to stop the Taliban fighters from extorting taxes, shelter and food from the local populace,” SFC Debra Richardson, a Resolute Support spokeswoman, said in a statement.
The Taliban historically mass men, weapons and equipment in small villages around the city in preparation for attacks on Kunduz City, she said, adding that it became clear after the forces landed near the village that Taliban fighters were pre-staged in defensive fighting positions.
Taliban were hiding in civilian homes and maneuvered in and out of compounds without any concern for the families living inside, she said.
“After killing 87 Taliban fighters and securing the village, some of the ground force maneuvered in vehicles to a security checkpoint. While approaching the checkpoint, the combined Afghan and coalition ground force was fired on by an unknown assailant at close range from the checkpoint as well as from two other directions. The fire from the enemy was indiscriminate and came from multiple directions. While defending themselves, the ground force conducted deconfliction with the ANDSF and no local forces reported being under fire. In self-defense, airstrikes were used to suppress the effective fire from the vicinity of the checkpoint. No bombs were used for this suppression,” she explained.
She said there are multiple Afghan reports from the area of the Taliban coercing and beating local Afghan civilians to allege civilians were killed. “We have seen this type of reporting in other places as the Taliban attempt to hide their losses by accusing ANDSF and coalition of causing civilians casualties,” the RS spokesperson added.
“We are aware of non-combatant casualty claims from those airstrikes. We take all claims seriously and investigate every credible allegation; we review every mission to learn, adapt and improve. We maintain the right to engage the enemy in self-defense and we take every measure to prevent civilian casualties, even as the Taliban intentionally hide behind women and children. We will continue to judiciously and carefully deliver the military pressure necessary to enable a political solution here,” she added.
Government’s Efforts for Preventing Civilian Casualties
President Ashraf Ghani on March 13 ordered the National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF) to abide by strict rules for preventing civilian casualties in their operations against militants.
A UN report from last month shows that a record number of civilians were killed in 2018.
“As President of a responsible state, I must say that civilian casualties are the most tragic event in times of war, it pains me as much as any other Afghan when I hear about harm to civilians,” Ghani said.
He made the remarks at a meeting with senior security officials from his cabinet as well as from the NATO’s Resolute Support mission in Afghanistan.
“I have ordered ANDSF to either abort or to wait-out a potential target if even a single civilian is present,” Ghani said in a tweet hours after his meeting. “Our security and defense forces are committed to the rules of war and engagement and they only provide a proportionate response to any enemy attacks.”
Ghani said the Afghan security agencies have taken urgent steps whenever they have received any reports on civilian casualties.
The United Nations in a report released last month said the organization has documented 3,804 civilian deaths, including 927 children, in 2018.
In total, UNAMA documented 10,993 civilian casualties (3,804 deaths and 7,189) wounded), representing a five percent increase in overall civilian casualties and an 11 percent increase in civilian deaths compared with 2017.
In this report, UNAMA attributes the majority of civilian casualties – 63 percent – to anti-government elements (37 percent to Taliban, 20 percent to Daesh, and 6 percent to undetermined anti-government elements).
According to the report, pro-government forces caused 24 percent civilian deaths (14 percent by Afghan national security forces, six percent by international military forces, and four percent by other pro-government armed groups and forces).
The report says that key factors contributing to the significant increase in civilian casualties were a spike in suicide attacks by anti-government elements, mainly Daesh, as well as increased harm to civilians from aerial and search operations by pro-government forces.
The report says that 2018 witnessed the highest number of civilian casualties ever recorded from suicide attacks and aerial operations.