Afghan government air strikes kill 24 civilians, claim witnesses

Witnesses say Afghan government air strikes killed at least 24 civilians, among them children, and wounded another six

(FILES) In this file photo taken on March 4, 2020, Afghan security forces stand guard at an Afghan National Army (ANA) outposts after an attack by  Taliban militants, in Kunduz Province.  The Taliban will hold talks with the Afghan government on September 11, 2020, but it will be no easy task for the foes to bridge their ideological differences and resolve the bitter legacy of two decades of war. / AFP / STR
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Government air strikes in the north of Afghanistan killed 24 civilians, including children, and wounded six others, witnesses told the Associated Press on Sunday.

The two witnesses contacted by the AP said that most of those killed in Saturday’s air strikes, which struck the village of Sayed Ramazan in northern Kunduz province, were civilians. The Khanabad district in the province where the village is located is Taliban controlled.

The Afghan Defence Ministry, however, said the airstrikes killed 30 Taliban fighters, but added an investigation was being held into claims that civilians were among those killed.

The air strikes come as Taliban and government-appointed negotiators are meeting for the first time in Qatar to discuss the future of Afghanistan and an end to decades of war and conflict.

Villagers said an initial air strike targeted a house belonging to a Taliban fighter, whose home doubled as a check post that stops and frisks people to ensure they are not connected to the government. The explosion set fire to a nearby home, trapping a family inside, said Latif Rahmani who witnessed the air strikes.

Speaking to the AP by phone, Mr Rahmani said farmers and villagers ran to douse the fire and rescue trapped family members inside when a second air strike hit, killing many of them.

Mr Rahmani, who said he was working on his house at the time of the air strike, warned his neighbours against running towards the burning buildings for fear of a second air strike.

“I yelled at people and told them not to go because maybe there would be another bombing, but they ran to help and to put out the fire,” Mr Rahmani said.

A second witness in the area, Kalamuddin, who like many Afghans uses just one name, said the lone Taliban fighter living in the house that was initially hit had been killed. He said five children were among the 24 civilians that had been killed.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid condemned the air strikes and said the Taliban had no military operations in the area at the time of the air strike.

The United Nations has harshly criticised both sides in the conflict for the relentless killing of civilians in Afghanistan’s protracted war.

The peace talks in Qatar are part of a US brokered deal with the Taliban that will eventually lead to US withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan.

In early July, Afghan national army personnel fired mortars into a busy market in southern Helmand, killing 23 people. The Defence Ministry is still investigating the incident.

Also Saturday, at least six rockets were fired at Nato’s Resolute Support base in southern Kandahar. No casualties were reported and no one claimed responsibility. Nato said in a statement that if the Taliban were behind the rocket fire, it could jeopardise the US peace deal in which the Taliban have promised not to attack US and Nato forces.