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Civilians reported killed in airstrike by Afghan military

Afghan army soldiers run for position during a firefight with Taliban gunmen in Kunduz city in October 2015. Afghan forces retained control of Kunduz on Saturday, April 16, 2016, after Taliban forces tried to recapture the city.

JOSH SMITH/STARS AND STRIPES

By J.P. LAWRENCE | STARS AND STRIPES Published: September 20, 2020

KABUL, Afghanistan – An airstrike by Afghan security forces targeting Taliban forces on Saturday killed noncombatants, local officials and media reports said.

The airstrike killed civilians –including women and children -- living in a Taliban-controlled part of the northern province of Kunduz, Ghulam Rabbani Rabbani, provincial council head, told Stars and Stripes.  

Various reports had as many as 24 civilians killed.

The Afghan Ministry of Defense denied any civilians had been killed and insisted that the attack killed more than 30 Taliban.  

No U.S. air assets were involved in the strike, a spokesman for NATO Resolute Support said Sunday in a statement.

The Taliban attacked Afghan security force checkpoints Saturday morning, leading to a counterattack, Afghan defense officials said in a statement.  

Kunduz and other provinces throughout the country have seen heavy fighting, even as the Afghan government and the Taliban conduct high-level talks aimed at ending the country’s decades-long war.  

A Taliban offensive encircled and almost seized the province's capital late last month, Reuters reported.

The initial airstrike by an Afghan attack plane targeted the home of a Taliban fighter, leading to an explosion that set a nearby home on fire, trapping the family inside, witnesses told the Associated Press.  

Farmers and villagers who ran to douse the fire and rescue the trapped family members were killed when the plane circled back around to attack again, the AP reported. 

The New York Times reported more than a dozen civilians dead, while the local news organization Pajhwok estimated about 20 civilians were killed or wounded.  

The attack occurred in Taliban-controlled territory, so it is difficult to independently confirm death counts and culpability.

The Afghan and U.S. governments have sometimes denied civilian deaths in airstrikes in the past, only to be contradicted by reports from the United Nations and independent watchdog groups. 

In June, the U.N. determined the Afghan army fired mortars into a busy market in the southern province of Helmand, killing 23 people, after military officials blamed the Taliban and denied responsibility.

The Defense Ministry is still investigating that incident, the AP reported Sunday. 

Zubair Babakarkhail contributed to this report. 

Lawrence.jp@stripes.com  
Twitter: @jplawrence3