18 civilians killed by coalition airstrikes in Afghanistan in a week – UN probe

A United Nations investigation has determined that at least 18 civilians have been killed by international coalition airstrikes in Afghanistan over the past week.

Air raids on Thursday and Friday around Sangin district in Helmand Province, southern Afghanistan, have killed at least 18 civilians, most of them women and children, the UN inquiry found. Survivors are currently being treated at a hospital in Lashkar Gah, the regional capital.

The American military says it has conducted 30 airstrikes around Helmand in the last week, and it will look into the UN’s allegations.

"We are investigating the allegations and working diligently to determine whether civilians were killed or injured as a result of US air strikes," said Brigadier General Charles Cleveland, as cited by Reuters.

While the UN statement said that the allegedly deadly strikes had been conducted by "international military forces," only US aircraft had been involved in recent military operations in the region, Reuters reported, citing military officials.

The NATO-led military mission in Helmand has been providing support to local security forces in fighting against Taliban insurgents, Reuters said, adding that US aircraft had been deployed to provide combat support.

Nearly 900 civilians were killed or injured in Helmand Province last year, the UN said, adding that this figure "was the highest in the country in 2016 outside of Kabul."

Earlier this week, a US military commander suggested that the NATO-led force in Afghanistan should expand its presence, as he felt the troops assisting Kabul in tackling militant insurgents were "a few thousand" soldiers short. The Afghan Defense Ministry said it supported "any decision taken between the Afghan and American governments" on the matter, adding that expansion of the international military presence would be a "good step."

The Taliban has opposed the planned move, saying additional foreign troops in Afghanistan would bring "nothing more than suffering and more casualties," Reuters reported.