UN investigating US airstrike that killed 32 civilians in Afghanistan

Afghans perform prayers at the funeral for the victims killed by an air strike called in to protect Afghan and U.S. forces during a raid on suspected Taliban militants, in Kunduz, Afghanistan November 4, 2016. © Nasir Wakif
The United Nations is investigation a US airstrike that killed 32 civilians and injured 19 others in northern Afghanistan on Thursday, said Tadamichi Yamamoto, head of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA).

"The loss of civilian life is unacceptable and undermines efforts toward building peace and stability in Afghanistan," Yamamoto said in a statement.  

Thursday’s airstrike was called in to support a Special Forces raid on suspected Taliban militants in the area. 

The Afghan Special Forces and their US advisers came under heavy fire in Buz Kandahari, with three Afghan troops and two Americans losing lives in the gunfight. 

On Saturday, the US military confirmed that it carried out the airstrike in which 32 civilians died, and promised to investigate the incident. 

“I deeply regret the loss of innocent lives, regardless of the circumstances," Gen. John W. Nicholson, commander of US forces in Afghanistan, said in a statement.

"The loss of innocent life is a tragedy and our thoughts are with the families. We will work with our Afghan partners to investigate and determine the facts and we will work with the government of Afghanistan to provide assistance," he added.

Moscow has called on the US to hold an independent investigation into the November 3 airstrike, in which 32 civilians died in northern Afghanistan, and to punish those responsible for the civilians deaths.

“About 20 Afghan civilians were injured and some 20 homes destroyed,” the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

“We strongly condemn the death of innocent civilians as a result of airstrikes by the US Air Force in Kunduz,” the ministry stressed. “We demand an immediate, objective investigation of the incident and punishment for those responsible for the tragedy in order to avoid recurrence of such egregious cases.

“It should be noted that this is not the first time civilians have died in Afghanistan due to the indiscriminate use of weapons by the US military,” the Russian Foreign Ministry added, while noting “the US reaction was predictable, limited to a statement of willingness to hold an investigation. As practice shows, the results of such investigations are not publicly revealed, and the perpetrators are not given adequate punishment.”

“We express our deepest condolences to the families and friends of those killed, and wish a speedy recovery to those injured,” the Russian Foreign Ministry concluded.

The Kandahari tragedy adds to the increasing civilian death toll in Afghanistan, where 95 people were killed and 111 injured during the last seven days, according to UN data. 

 READ MORE: 2 US soldiers killed, 2 wounded in Kunduz, Afghanistan

The city of Kunduz already made headlines last year when a US airstrike on October 3, 2015 killed 42 people, including three children, at the Doctors Without Borders or Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) hospital.

The US carried out its own investigation into that incident, calling it an “honest mistake,” apologizing to the aid group and providing cash to reconstruct the medical facility.

But MSF has called for an independent inquiry, saying that the American probe left too many questions unanswered and had failed to ensure that the tragedy wouldn’t be repeated.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova on Thursday said that while the 15-year history of the US-NATO operation in Afghanistan is “full of such examples” of civilians killed in airstrikes, no incident has seen anyone brought to justice following an investigation.

“No one bears any responsibility – neither at a personal level ... nor at the state level,” Zakharova said.