The US forces in Afghanistan have admitted that a drone attack that killed at least 30 pine nut farmers in Nangarhar province on Thursday was conducted by them.
At least 40 others were injured in the attack in Wazir Tangi area of Khogyani district that was previously attributed to the West-backed Afghan government.
A spokesman for US forces in Afghanistan confirmed on Thursday that the drone attack was conducted by the US with the intention of destroying a hideout used by the fighters of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL or ISIS) group.
“Initial indications are members of Daesh [ISIL] were among those targeted in the strike,” Colonel Sonny Leggett, spokesman for the American-led coalition in Afghanistan said.
“However, we are working with local officials to determine whether there was collateral damage.”
Sohrab Qaderi, a provincial council member in Nangarhar said on Thursday that the drone attack killed 30 workers in a pine nut field and at least 40 others were injured.
The defence ministry in Kabul confirmed the raid, but refused to share casualty details immediately.
Attaullah Khogyani, a spokesman for the provincial governor of Nangarhar confirmed the air raid.
“The government is investigating the incident. So far nine bodies are collected from the attack site near a pine nut field,” he said.
Malik Rahat Gul, a tribal elder in Wazir Tangi, said the air raid happened at a time when tired workers, mainly daily wage earners, had gathered near their tent after harvesting pine nuts in a field nearby.
“The workers had lit a bonfire and were sitting together when a drone targeted them,” said Gul.
Earlier this month, four brothers were killed in a raid by the CIA-trained and funded 02 Unit of the National Directorate of Security (NDS) spy agency.
Spike in Taliban attacks
Also on Thursday, at least 39 people were killed in Zabul province’s Qalat city in a suicide car bomb blast claimed by the Taliban armed group.
Hundreds of people have been killed in the past several weeks, as the West-backed government forces and Taliban fighters have stepped up attacks since a peace deal between the armed group and the United States collapsed earlier this month.
The Taliban fighters wanted to target a training base for Afghanistan’s powerful spy agency, NDS, in Qalat city but parked the explosives-laden truck outside a hospital gate nearby, a defence ministry source said.
Al Jazeera’s Rob McBride, reporting from the capital, Kabul, said several women, children, health workers and patients in the hospital were critically injured in the blast.
“[The] truck bomb that drove up against an exterior wall of the NDS building detonated, but right next door was a provincial hospital that has taken the brunt of this explosion … the death toll is likely to rise,” he said.
The spike in Taliban attacks comes as Afghanistan prepares for the presidential election scheduled to be held on September 28.
The Taliban has warned that its fighters will step up their campaign against the Afghan government and foreign forces to dissuade people from voting in the presidential election.
“The government is still going ahead with its preparation for elections and trying to open up the number of polling stations,” McBride said.
“As the Taliban say, they are still open to peace talks; the Afghan government is saying it has to resume only after elections.”
More than nine million Afghans are expected to vote in the presidential election, for which the government has deployed more than 70,000 security forces across the country.
US President Donald Trump abruptly ended talks with the Taliban earlier this month for a deal on the withdrawal of thousands of American troops from Afghanistan in exchange for security guarantees from the Taliban.
The talks, which did not include the Afghan government, were intended to lead to wider peace negotiations to end the 18-year-long war in Afghanistan.