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US air strikes in Afghanistan kill 16 civilians

US military insist the dead had been extremist fighters

Gulf News

JALALABAD, Afghanistan: Afghan officials said on Friday that US warplanes killed 16 civilians as they tried to flee an area in eastern Afghanistan controlled by Daesh terrorists, but the US military insisted the dead had been extremist fighters.

Haji 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 air strike in that district killed civilians, according to Afghan officials.

The latest victims died on Thursday afternoon when the vehicles they were travelling in were hit by US air strikes believed to be targeting Daesh terrorists in the area, Wali said. It is not known how many were wounded, he added.

A spokesman for the US military in Kabul said that those killed in the air strikes 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.”

Attaullah Khogyani, the spokesman for Nangarhar province’s governor, confirmed that casualties had occurred but declined to give details.

Mohammad Khan, 42, a truck driver, said in a telephone interview that he had lost six members of his family in the air strike, which hit a minibus in which they were fleeing. ”There were no Daesh terrorists in the area,” he said. “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.”

On July 24, Afghan officials said, nine civilians were killed in a US air strike on a prayer ceremony held in Haska Meena, near the border with Pakistan, by relatives of Daesh terrorists who had been killed.

The US military asserted that that strike, too, targeted terrorists. “This is the second false claim of civilian casualties in the same district within the last three weeks,” the military said in a news release.

As US air strikes continue at a rapid pace, there have been a number of such episodes in recent months.