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24 Mar, 2019 18:40

US airstrikes kill a dozen Afghan civilians, as battle with Taliban heats up – report

US airstrikes kill a dozen Afghan civilians, as battle with Taliban heats up – report

American airstrikes have killed around a dozen Afghan civilians in the northern province of Kunduz, local officials have said. The strikes came as US-backed Afghan forces and Taliban militants vie for control of the area.

One provincial councillor put the death toll at twelve, while another estimated that 13 civilians died, including children, in Saturday’s strikes. NATO spokeswoman Sergeant. Debra Richardson told Reuters that the alliance’s Resolute Support mission is aware of the casualty reports, and that it investigates all such credible allegations.

“We take every measure to prevent civilian casualties, in contrast to the Taliban who intentionally hide behind women and children,” Richardson said in a statement.

Afghan and coalition forces have been locked in intense combat with the Taliban in Kunduz and Helmand provinces recently, despite ongoing peace talks in Qatar between the Taliban and the US. Afghan and US forces fought the Taliban in Kunduz for over 30 hours on Friday and Saturday, Richardson said, during which time the airstrike took place. Two US soldiers were killed in the fighting, while four Afghan soldiers lost their lives, according to Reuters.

In the southern province of Helmand, the situation was equally dire over the weekend. Taliban attacks in Helmand’s Sangin district killed as many as 65 Afghan troops and police officers between Friday and Saturday, local politicians told the New York Times. However, precise casualty figures are difficult to ascertain.

Amidst the chaos, the Taliban has re-emerged as a formidable opponent. A report by the US Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, released in January, found that the Afghan government now controls only half of the country’s 407 districts, a drop of two percentage points since last summer. A more pessimistic independent analysis puts the government in control of only 35 percent of these districts, with the remainder contested or under Taliban rule.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said in January that around 45,000 Afghan security personnel have been killed since he took office in September 2014, roughly 849 per month. Suicide attacks by Taliban fighters and aerial attacks from US and coalition forces also killed more Afghan civilians in 2018 than in any other year since the US invasion in 2001, the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan revealed last month.

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