At least 20 Afghan civilians killed in airstrike: Officials

A photo posted to social media after the incident.
A photo posted to social media after the incident.PHOTO: TWITTER

ASADABAD, AFGHANISTAN (REUTERS) - At least 20 Afghan civilians, including 12 children, were killed in an airstrike targeting a Taleban commander in the eastern province of Kunar late on Friday (Dec 14), local officials said.

The strike, against local Taleban commander Sharif Mawiya, was the latest in a series targeting senior insurgents, including the shadow governor of the strategic southern province of Helmand, who was killed on Dec 2.

Several Taleban military commanders have been killed this month by Afghan forces, backed by United States advisers and air power.

The tactic has raised the risk of civilian casualties and Mr Abdul Latif Fazly, a member of the provincial council, said eight women and 12 children were killed and more than 15 others wounded in Friday's airstrike.

However a spokeswoman for the Nato-led Resolute Support mission denied that there were civilian deaths, although she said some civilians were wounded.

"The Taleban continue to use civilians as shields and barricade themselves inside compounds while engaging the Afghan forces," said Ms Debra Richardson of Resolute Support.

She said US airstrikes were supporting the new Afghan army strategy of targeting the entire Taleban organisation, from low-level fighters to high-ranking leaders.

"We have reports over 40 Taleban fighters were killed in the Afghan-led operations, supported by US air strikes in Kunar province," said Ms Richardson.

Kunar governor Abdul Satar Mirzakwal said an operation by Afghan forces in Sheltan district killed 38 Taleban and Al-Qaeda members, including four foreign nationals, and wounded 12 more.

He said the operation targeted Sharif Mawiya, a commander believed to be a facilitator with Al-Qaeda militants.

He said an unknown number of civilians were hit in the strike but had no casualty details.

"We know that a number of civilians, including women and children have been killed but we are sending a fact finding team," he said.

The number of Afghan civilians killed in US and Afghan airstrikes has risen sharply this year as Western-backed forces stepped up aerial operations with the aim of forcing the Taleban to agree to peace talks.

According to United Nations figures, 313 civilians were killed and 336 wounded in airstrikes by US and Afghan forces in the nine months to the end of September, a 39 per cent increase from the same period in 2017.

Airstrike casualties accounted for 8 per cent of the total 8,050 civilian casualties during the period. The overall number of civilian casualties was roughly stable.