Air raids by Afghan security forces against Taliban fighters have killed at least 45 people, including civilians, according to a local official.
Ali Ahmad Faqir Yar, governor of Adraskan district in the western Afghan province of Herat, said on Wednesday at least eight civilians were among the dead.
“Forty-five people had been killed so far in air strikes by security forces in the Kham Ziarat area. Taliban were among those killed,” he said.
It was unclear how many of the remaining 37 were civilians and how many were members of the Taliban.
Qari Mohammad Yousuf Ahmadi, a Taliban spokesman, said in a statement two air raids in Herat killed eight civilians and wounded 12. Two local officials confirmed there had been two rounds of air raids.
“Such attacks would compel recently freed prisoners who wish to live normal lives to take up arms once again against the enemy,” said Ahmadi.
Acting Defence Minister Asadullah Khalid said on Thursday Taliban fighters were killed in the attacks. His ministry issued a statement saying it was investigating the reports of civilian casualties, and would make the findings public.
“The National Defense and Security Forces have the responsibility to protect the lives and property of the people, in this regard, they use all the opportunities and facilities and will not spare any effort,” the statement said.
The air raids were condemned by the US envoy trying to start peace talks involving all sides.
‘Spare no effort’
Habib Amini, a local official in neighbouring Guzara district, confirmed the incident and said 45 people were killed and more injured.
Jailani Farhad, spokesman for the Herat governor, told Anadolu news agency at least six key Taliban commanders involved in major assaults in Herat were targeted in the air raids.
He said the civilian casualties were caused by a land mine blast nearby.
The US special peace envoy for Afghanistan, meanwhile, condemned the attack and called for an investigation.
“In Herat, photos and eyewitness accounts suggest many civilians including children are among the victims of an Afghan airstrike. We condemn the attack and support an investigation,” Zalmay Khalilzad said on Twitter, adding that Washington also “deplored” recent Taliban attacks.
The US is winding back troops under an agreement with the Taliban struck in February, which was meant to pave the way to formal peace talks between the group and the Afghan government.
However, disagreement over the release of prisoners demanded by the Taliban and rising violence around the country have hampered progress, and talks have yet to start.
The fragile Afghan peace deal hinges on the prisoner exchanges. In line with the landmark US-Taliban peace agreement, about 5,000 Taliban prisoners should have been released from government prisons in return for the estimated 1,000 captive security forces in March.
But, according to the National Security Council, the government has released 4,019 Taliban so far, while the Taliban freed about half of the 1,000 prisoners it agreed to release.
The Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission said recently in the first six months of this year a total of 1,213 civilians were killed, while 1,744 had been wounded in 880 incidents.