Women, children among seven killed in Afghan gov't air raids

Kabul government sends fact-finding mission after killing of civilians in northern Balkh province prompts protests.

    Government air raids in Afghanistan's northern Balkh province have killed at least seven civilians, including three children, triggering protests from local residents.

    Tolo news, a local news website, reported that the victims belonged to one family and were killed while they were having dinner on Sunday.

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    A member of parliament from Balkh alleged that the attack was carried out in areas controlled by the government, according to local media reports.

    The West-backed Afghan government, which has been battling an armed rebellion from Taliban, pledged to send a fact-finding mission to investigate the reports of civilian deaths.

    The Balkh operation was part of the government's ground-and-air offensive against the Taliban, which has waged an armed rebellion since it was dislodged from power in a United States-led invasion in 2001 following deadly attacks on US soil.

    The government offensive comes as the US has been engaging Taliban in peace talks to end the 19-year-old war.

    Afghan defence ministry on Sunday said it has killed dozens of “terrorists” in 13 ground and 12 air operations across nine provinces in the last 24 hours, Reuters news agency reported. At least 13 people have been wounded and six others arrested, the ministry said.

    Taliban claim deadly attacks

    Meanwhile, the Taliban said it had staged two more attacks aimed at security forces over the weekend, following sporadic assaults last week.

    Afghan security forces' checkpoints in Kunduz were attacked on Saturday night, Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said in a statement, adding that 10 members of the security forces were killed and three wounded. Taliban fighters also captured a large weapons cache, he said.

    In a separate statement, the Taliban said its fighters had ambushed an Afghan forces patrol in Balkh, killing eight security personnel.

    The spike in hostilities comes as US and Taliban negotiators resumed talks in the Qatari capital Doha after US President Donald Trump abruptly suspended talks last September following a deadly attack in Kabul that killed a US soldier.

    Last week, another round of talks kicked off with US Special Representative on Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad meeting repeatedly with the Taliban's chief negotiator Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar.

    Multiple sources close to the talks said the Taliban had agreed internally to halt attacks against US forces and "reduce" assaults against Afghan government interests.

    Over the last week, however, reports of attacks by Taliban fighters on government installations, including police stations continued to filter in from different parts of Afghanistan.

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    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies