Hard-pressed Afghan troops rely on US air support (NOORULLAH SHIRZADA)

Kabul (AFP) – The United Nations said Tuesday it was investigating “credible reports” that nine members of a family had been killed in an air strike in Afghanistan, but US Forces denied the victims were civilians.

Women and children were among those reportedly killed on Saturday after an “aerial ordnance” hit the home of a teacher in Tagab district in the eastern province of Kapisa, the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) said in a statement.

Six other family members were wounded in the attack on Badrab village, UNAMA added, citing “multiple, credible allegations”.

“All the victims from the attack were from the same family, including grandparents and children aged between two and 12,” it said.

Latif, whose home was one of three damaged in the strike, told AFP on Monday that 15 members of a family including three children were killed when a “bomb” hit their house on Saturday night.

But local officials told AFP they had not received any reports of civilian casualties.

US Forces spokesman David Butler said Afghan ground troops involved in a gunbattle had been forced to call in US air support.

“Only militants” were killed, Butler said in a statement on Tuesday, adding that US Forces “suppressed the target, killing the militants who were firing against our partners”.

The Afghan National Army later reported that locals had been told to claim civilian casualties, Butler said.

A US Forces assessment showed nine militants were killed.

Initially, before the UNAMA statement was published, US Forces had said that “six militia” were wounded in the incident after a US forces helicopter returned fire “in self defense” and were being treated in a US hospital.

Local militias often work with overstretched security forces in Afghanistan.

UNAMA said it was in contact with Afghan and US forces as part of its “ongoing independent verification process”.

In a separate incident, 12 members of a family were killed in airstrikes targeting Taliban fighters in Wardak province near Kabul on Monday, provincial council member Ahmad Jahfari told AFP.

But provincial governor spokesman Abdul Rahman Mangal said there had been “no reports of any civilian casualties” in the ongoing operation in Jaghato district that had so far killed more than 40 Taliban.

US Forces did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Civilian deaths from air strikes have risen sharply this year as Afghan and US forces intensify the aerial bombardment of Taliban and Islamic State group militants.

UNAMA documented 353 civilian casualties — 149 deaths and 204 injuries — from aerial attacks in the first six months of this year — up 52 percent from the same period in 2017.

The Afghan Air Force was responsible for 52 percent of the casualties, UNAMA said.

“International military forces” accounted for 45 percent. The US is the only international force known to conduct air strikes in Afghanistan.


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