Afghan government to investigate air strike that killed women and children

Locals had reportedly gathered to welcome home recently released Taliban fighters when the government launched air strikes

The Afghan government has launched an investigation after carrying out an air strike on Taliban commanders that killed civilians.

Witnesses say that most of the at least 14 killed on Wednesday in Afghanistan’s western Herat province were women and children. A spokesman for US forces in Afghanistan said they had not taken part in Wednesday's air strikes.

While details are still being confirmed, officials say the final death toll is likely to be much higher.

Qari Muhammad Yousuf Ahmadi, a Taliban spokesman, said that two air strikes in Heart had killed eight civilians and wounded 12.

Two local officials confirmed there had been two rounds of air strikes but some officials placed the death toll much higher.

"Forty-five people had been killed so far in air strikes by security forces in the Kham Ziarat area, Taliban were among those killed," Ali Ahmad Faqir Yar, the governor of Adraskan District in the eastern Afghanistan province of Herat, said. It is unclear how many civilians and how many Taliban were killed although reports suggest at least six insurgents were among the dead.

Hundreds of people had gathered in Adraskan district to welcome home a former Taliban fighter freed from jail as part of a confidence-boosting measure between Kabul and the insurgents amid the wider US-Taliban peace effort.

However, government aircraft then pounded the gathering, Noor Rahmati, a witness who lost three members of his family in the air strike, told the Associated Press.

District elders and well-wishers had arrived to welcome Ghulam Nabi when the attack began, the witnesses said. Nabi said he nine-year-old son was wounded in the attack.

Local media quoted government sources saying that commanders had gathered in Adraskan to make plans to attack government installations and Herat city at the time of the air strike.

The government said they will share results of the investigation and said the military has a responsibility to protect lives.

"The results of the investigation will be shared with the public and the media. The National Defence 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 United States 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 insurgents 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.

Nabi had apparently been released as part of the prisoner exchange aimed at moving intra-Afghan negotiations forward. The incident could hamper efforts to start talks at ending the decades long conflict.

US Peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad tweeted a condemnation of the violence late on Wednesday and welcomed the government investigation.

“The last 24 hours have been very violent in Afghanistan with many losing their lives,” he said. “In Herat, photos and witness accounts suggest many civilians including children are among the victims of an Afghan air strike. We condemn the attack and support an investigation.”

The United Nations has been critical of the increasing death toll among civilians in Afghanistan, caused by both sides in the protracted conflict.

It came amid a number of other violent incidents in the country, which continues to see high levels of violence against civilians. In the first nine months of 2019 alone, at least 2,563 civilians were killed and 5,676 wounded.

Updated: July 23, 2020 11:30 AM


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