US air strikes in the northern Afghan province of Kunduz killed 13 civilians

U.S. airstrikes in the northern Afghan province of Kunduz killed about a dozen civilians on Saturday as the battle intensified there and in southern Helmand province.

The air strikes killed 13 civilians, said Safiullah Amiri, a member of Kunduz provincial council.

The casualties included children, said fellow council member Amruddin, who pegged the civilian death toll at 12.

The bodies were brought into Kunduz city in the back of a truck as part of protests by dozens of civilians against the deaths.

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.

Kunduz is also where two U.S. soldiers were killed in combat on Friday. The U.S. Department of Defense identified the soldiers as Specialist Joseph Collette, 29, and Sgt. Will Lindsay, 33.

After killing 94 Taliban, some U.S. and Afghan soldiers drove vehicles to a security checkpoint, where she said they were fired upon at close range. This was followed by Taliban fighters on either side of the checkpoint shooting at them.

Four Afghan soldiers died in the fight, a senior Afghan military source said.

The Taliban said it had killed 19 members of Afghan forces and five from foreign forces in Kunduz.

A record number of Afghan civilians were killed last year as aerial attacks and suicide bombings increased, the United Nations said in a February report.

Fighting has accelerated during a period of recurring peace talks. The latest negotiating round concluded this month with U.S. and Taliban officials citing progress toward ending the 17-year war.

The Taliban has also caused civilian deaths in Helmand.

The militant group on Saturday claimed an attack at a stadium celebration of Farmers Day, which killed four people and wounded 31, including minor injuries to the Helmand’s governor.

A day earlier, the Taliban attacked two Afghan outposts in Sangin, killing 48 Afghan security personnel, said Hashim Alokozay, a Helmand member of parliament. Taliban spokesman Qari Yousuf Ahmadi said the two outposts were over-run, killing 52 Afghan troops and wounding 11 more.

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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