KABUL, Afghanistan — U.S. forces in Afghanistan are investigating the deaths of at least six civilian hostages held by the Taliban and allegedly killed in an airstrike in northern Kunduz province, officials said Tuesday.

Officials have not said whether Saturday’s strike — which local authorities said killed a Taliban leader and five other insurgents — was carried out by American or Afghan forces.

Amruddin Wali, deputy of the Kunduz provincial council, said investigators were looking at two conflicting versions of how the civilian hostages died. One is that they were killed in the airstrike, and the other is that they were executed by the Taliban to make it look as though they died in a bombing by Afghan or American forces.

“I’m not sure what exactly happened,” Wali said in a telephone interview on Tuesday.

The U.S. military said it was investigating the incident with its Afghan counterparts.

Since May, the Taliban have abducted more than 200 people in Kunduz, mostly from buses traveling to different parts of Afghanistan. Police spokesman Hijratullah Akbari said the hostages killed Saturday were among those abducted from provincial roads.

The Taliban leader who died, Mullah Janat Gul, “was responsible for all the kidnappings that took place in Kunduz recently,” Akbari said.

Another Taliban leader, Qari Ghafour, was killed in a separate airstrike in Kunduz over the weekend. The Afghan Defense Ministry said Ghafour was responsible for several terrorist attacks in the region.

The deaths are the latest setbacks for the Taliban since Washington authorized an expanded role for U.S. forces, allowing them wider latitude to target the group.

Under the new rules, approved by President Barack Obama last month, U.S. commanders can expand the use of American air power for offensive missions against the Taliban and send troops to fight alongside regular Afghan forces. In the past they provided support only to Afghan special forces.

The change came after worrying Taliban advances across the country.

Zubair Babakarkhail contributed to this report. Twitter: @PhillipWellman

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Phillip is a reporter and photographer for Stars and Stripes, based in Kaiserslautern, Germany. From 2016 to 2021, he covered the war in Afghanistan from Stripes’ Kabul bureau. He is a graduate of the London School of Economics.

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