Afghan authorities have said they are investigating a weekend air raid which local officials say killed more than a dozen civilians, including children.
Provincial officials said 15 people died on Saturday night when a rocket struck a house in Khashrod district of Nimroz province. Relatives of the victims and witnesses put the death toll at 18, all members of the same family in Munazari village.
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“We are aware of claims of civilian casualties in Nimroz. We have launched an investigation jointly with local officials,” the defence ministry said in a statement.
Provincial council member Nehmatullah Sediqqi told the AFP news agency Afghan forces carried out two air raids in the district.
“In the first strike, six Taliban fighters were killed. The second strike hit a house that killed 15 civilians, including women and children,” he said.
Nimroz public health official Nasir Ahmad Haibat said bodies of 15 people were brought to a hospital on Sunday.
Another local official, who did not want to named, said the house targeted in the attack belonged to a Taliban commander and security forces did not know there were civilians inside.
On Sunday, relatives of the victims brought the bodies to the provincial capital, Zaranj, to prove the deceased were not Taliban fighters and demand justice.
President Ashraf Ghani on Monday said he was “deeply saddened” by the civilian casualties in the air raid and urged authorities to thoroughly investigate.
But he blamed the Taliban for being responsible for the casualties.
“The Taliban and other terrorist groups are often using the people’s houses as shields and are the main cause of misfortunes during a war,” he said in a statement.
The latest bloodshed triggered international calls for an inquiry into the raid.
“We call for a full investigation and if need be for accountability and justice,” the French embassy in Kabul said on Twitter.
Reports of civilian casualties after an airstrike in Nimruz. We call for a full investigation and if need be for accountability and justice. 🇫🇷 supports the gov of #Afghanistan in all battles against terrorism but civilians must be effectively protected. #FranceInAfghanistan
— FrenchEmbassyKabul (@AmbassadeKaboul) January 11, 2021
The United Nations Assistance Mission for Afghanistan (UNAMA) said in a report in October that 2,117 civilians were killed and 3,822 wounded in the first nine months of 2020.
The report said about 8 percent of the civilian casualties during that period were caused by Afghan air raids.
Continued violence has hastened international calls for a ceasefire between the Afghan government and the Taliban, whose representatives met on Saturday for a first session in the second round of peace talks, where contentious issues such as a ceasefire and power-sharing are expected to be discussed.
The Taliban was removed from power in 2001 by United States-led forces. A US-backed government has held power in Afghanistan since then, although the Taliban has control over wide areas of the country.
Under a February deal, foreign forces are to leave Afghanistan by May 2021 in exchange for security guarantees from the Taliban.