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UN Probes Reports of Serious Harm to Civilians in Afghan Airstrike

UN Probes Reports of Serious Harm to Civilians in Afghan AirstrikeUN Probes Reports of Serious Harm to Civilians in Afghan Airstrike

The United Nations said on Tuesday it was investigating “disturbing reports of serious harm to civilians” in an Afghan airstrike on a religious school that security sources say left dozens of children dead or wounded.

Hundreds of people were attending a graduation ceremony at the madrassa in a Taliban-controlled district in northeastern Afghanistan on Monday when Afghan Air Force helicopters struck, witnesses have told AFP.

“Human Rights team on ground establishing facts. All parties reminded of obligations to protect civilians from impact of armed conflict,” the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan said in a brief statement.

At least 59 people, including Taliban commanders meeting at the compound in the Dashte Archi district in Kunduz Province, were killed in the attack, Afghan security sources told AFP on condition of anonymity.

Most of the civilian victims were children, they said. Government officials in both Kabul and Kunduz have given conflicting figures, with some denying any civilians had been killed or that a madrassa had been hit. Afghan officials have been known to minimize civilian casualties.

“I myself counted 35 bodies,” Abdul Khalil told AFP at the hospital in the provincial capital Kunduz—more than 50 kilometres (30 miles) from the airstrike—where health officials said 57 injured had been taken.

“I arrived at the scene right after the airstrikes—it was like a butcher’s shop. Everywhere was covered with blood, the ground was littered with body parts, heads, limbs and other parts.”

A man called Yousuf, who was at the ceremony when the airstrikes happened, told AFP he saw “blood and body parts everywhere”.

Afghan television showed anguished relatives standing outside the hospital yelling “shame on you”.

So far the defense ministry has denied civilians were among the casualties.

“Twenty Taliban, including the commander of their Red Unit in the district, and also a key member of the Quetta Shura were killed,” defense ministry spokesman Mohammad Radmanish told AFP on Monday.

The Red Unit is the insurgent group’s elite unit and the Quetta Shura is its leadership council.

The same number were wounded, Radmanish added.

 

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