JALALABAD: Afghan officials said on Friday that American warplanes killed 16 civilians as they tried to flee an area in eastern Afghanistan controlled by Islamic State militants, but the United States military insisted the dead had been extremist fighters.
Hajji Saz Wali, the governor of Haska Meena District in the southern part of Nangarhar Province, said the victims included women and children, with eight of the dead from one family, and four others from a second. It was the second time since July 24 that an airstrike in that district killed civilians, according to Afghan officials.
The latest victims died Thursday afternoon when the vehicles they were traveling in were hit by American airstrikes believed to be targeting Islamic State militants in the area, Mr. Wali said. It is not known how many were wounded, he added.
A spokesman for the American military in Kabul said that those killed in the airstrikes had been seen loading weapons into a vehicle. “The strike was conducted in the middle of open terrain,” said the spokesman, Bob Purtiman. “There was zero chance of civilian casualties.”
Mohammada Khan, 42, a truck driver, said in a telephone interview that he had lost six members of his family – including two children and two women – in the airstrike, which hit a minibus in which they were fleeing.
“We got to the area of the bombing and put their body parts in a truck and brought them to Jalalabad city, where we buried them this morning,” he said. “There were no ISIS members in the area. It was not a valley or a mountainous area. It was a clear area, and they should understand that people in the vehicle are civilians, as the car was a civilian car.”
Mr. Khan added, “But it was God’s will, so we cannot say anything.”
On July 24, Afghan officials said, nine civilians were killed in an American airstrike on a prayer ceremony held in Haska Meena, near the border with Pakistan, by relatives of ISIS members who had been killed.
As American airstrikes continue at a rapid pace, there have been a number of such episodes in recent months.
Claims of civilian deaths from airstrikes have occurred this year in Kunduz in the north and in Helmand Province in the south, often as a result of fighting in areas where it can be difficult to distinguish insurgents from civilians.
Casualties among Afghan civilians, especially women and children, have risen to a record this year, according to a recent report from the United Nations. Most of those deaths have been attributed to insurgents, particularly through suicide bombings, rather than to airstrikes and other pro-government actions, the report said.
US denies Afghan claim of civilian deaths
KABUL: The United States on Saturday vehemently denied claims by Afghan officials that it had killed several civilians in an air strike in volatile eastern Afghanistan.
Afghan officials had said 11 civilians, including women and children, were killed when a private vehicle was struck in Haska Mina district of Nangarhar province, a hotbed of Islamic State activity, on Thursday.
But United States Forces in Afghanistan said in a statement the air strike “killed a number of militants”.
“The militants were observed loading weapons in to a vehicle and were under surveillance until the vehicle was destroyed by an air strike,” said Bob Purtiman, a spokesman for American operations in Afghanistan.
“The strike was conducted in the middle of open terrain. There was zero chance of civilian casualties.”
“This was the second false claim of civilian casualties in the same district in the last three weeks,” Purtiman added.
Of the roughly 13,000 foreign forces in Afghanistan only the US carries out air strikes.
They have been regularly targeting the militant Islamic State group fighters who control several districts in restive Nangarhar.
Civilian casualties caused by North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (Nato) forces have been one of the most contentious issues in the close to 16-year campaign against insurgents, prompting strong public and government criticism.
Last month a US air strike killed 16 policemen in Helmand province. It came after a US air strike in Sangin killed at least 18 civilians, mostly women and children, in February.
Civilian deaths are at an all-time high in Afghanistan. In the first half of the year, 1,662 civilians were killed and more than 3,500 injured, according to the United Nations.