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Joint US-Afghan operation leaves Taliban fighters, civilians dead

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By PHILLIP WALTER WELLMAN | STARS AND STRIPES Published: March 26, 2019

KABUL, Afghanistan — A raid coupled with U.S. airstrikes targeting Taliban fighters ended with five civilian deaths, including one child, the U.S. military said on Tuesday, one day after a United Nations report found an earlier coalition strike may have killed more than a dozen civilians.

The strikes were conducted in support of Afghan security forces and a small contingent of U.S. advisers on the ground in the Surobi district east of Kabul, Sgt. 1st Class Debra Richardson, a spokeswoman for U.S. Forces-Afghanistan, said in a statement.

“During the operation, airstrikes were used after Taliban fighters armed with machine guns were positively identified,” Richardson said. “It is likely the Taliban [Surobi] District Shadow Governor was killed along with six Taliban fighters. Unfortunately, four women and one child were killed.”

The U.S. military was reviewing the operation in conjunction with Afghan forces, Richardson said.

The insurgents were using women and children as shields, Afghanistan’s top intelligence agency said in a separate statement. Monday’s operation killed Surobi shadow governor Mullah Rashid and wounded several Taliban leaders, the National Directorate of Security said in its statement.

The five civilian deaths come days after a coalition airstrike that the U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan blamed for killing 13 civilians, including 10 children, in the north of the country.

In comments to the New York Times on Saturday, Richardson suggested the Taliban were fighting from civilian homes during that incident, which occurred earlier that day during a firefight that lasted more than a day in Kunduz province.

An investigation had been launched into that incident to determine whether civilians were harmed, Richardson told Stars and Stripes earlier this week.

UNAMA has repeatedly expressed concerns over the growing civilian death toll, which reached its highest levels last year compared to any other year since detailed accounting began nearly 10 years ago. In a report in January, the mission expressed specific concern over child casualties.

Key factors leading to the overall increase of civilian casualties were a spike in suicide attacks by militants and airstrikes by pro-government forces, including the U.S., UNAMA stated.

“We own every munition — every strike — and we strive to minimize non-combatant casualties through every state of an operation from operational planning, to targeting and execution,” Richardson said. “The nature of war is horrific. The most effective way to end the suffering of non-combatants is to end the fighting.”

Zubair Babakarkhail contributed to this report.

wellman.phillip@stripes.com
Twitter: @pwwellman

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