The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) in a statement confirmed that based on their initial findings, at least 13 civilians were killed in an airstrike conducted by international military forces on Friday night in Kunduz province in support of pro-Government forces on the ground.
The report was first leaked by local residents who said 13 members of one family were killed in the airstrike the Taloka and Tap-e-Khowak Pak village on the outskirts of Kunduz city.
The residents said the airstrike was conducted at 1am on Friday night.
The Mission expresses serious concern that initial fact-finding indicates that 10 of those killed were children, part of the same extended family who was displaced by fighting elsewhere in the country, the statement said.
“Work is ongoing to verify all civilian casualties that occurred during military operations that were conducted around the time of the airstrike,” the statement added.
According to the statement, the incident occurred in the Telawka neighborhood close to Kunduz city during operations conducted by pro-government forces against the Taliban in the area.
UNAMA urges relevant authorities and parties involved in the airstrike to conduct their own inquiries into the incident and to take immediate steps to safeguard civilians from harm.
Parties are urged to publish results of their findings, as well as provide appropriate compensation to victims.
In its 2018 Annual Protection of Civilians Report, released in February 2019, UNAMA reported a sharp increase in civilian casualties from aerial and search operations in 2018 compared to 2017.
The report noted that aerial operations by international military forces, as well as search operations conducted by Afghan national security forces and pro-government armed groups, drove a 24 percent overall increase in civilian casualties by pro-Government forces. UNAMA expressed particular concern about child casualties from air strikes which have been increasing every year since 2014.
UNAMA reminds all parties to the conflict to uphold their obligations under international humanitarian law to protect civilians from harm, including their obligation to take all feasible precautions to avoid death or injury to civilians.
UNAMA expresses its condolences to the families of the victims and wishes a speedy recovery to the injured.
On March 23, 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.
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.
Ghani said the Afghan security agencies have taken urgent steps whenever they have received any reports on civilian casualties.