At least 23 civilians, most of them women and children, have been killed in a US airstrike in Afghanistan’s southern province of Helmand, the UN says.
The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) pointed to a sharp increase in civilian casualties from the air operations in a Friday statement, emphasizing that it was particularly concerned about the high number of children impacted by the bombardment.
The strike on a compound in Helmand province was called in during a joint operation between Afghan and US forces.
Investigators said up to 10 children and eight women may have been killed. US forces say they are investigating.
Civilian casualties from aerial attacks have surged since the US announced a new Afghan strategy last year.
President Trump committed more troops to America’s longest war and significantly boosted the number of strikes targeting Taliban and Islamic State group positions in August 2017. The rules of engagement were also loosened, allowing more bombings.
The US-led Nato mission in Afghanistan said that Tuesday’s helicopter strike took place amid a firefight between US-advised Afghan special forces and Taliban fighters in Garmser district.
Nato said the Taliban had been using the building that was hit “as a fighting position”, and accused the militants of continuously using civilians as human shields.
A local resident who did not want to be named for fear of retaliation told the BBC that Taliban fighters were indeed near the building that was hit by the US strike.
He said the youngest victim was about six years old, but this could not be verified.
Local residents insist that at least 30 people were killed as the result of the air strike, which was carried out amid a surge in US-led air operations as the US military claims to have adopted a more aggressive approach in its bid to force Taliban militants to “peace” talks.
This is while the US military claims that it is also conducting its own investigation of the airstrike on Tuesday in which a helicopter hit a compound during a joint operation with American and Afghan forces in Garmsir district of the province.
Elsewhere in Helmand, explosive ordnance struck residential units during clashes between the Taliban militants and Afghan security forces days ago, killing two civilians and injuring at least 14 others, including 10 children. According to the UN, those clashes occurred in the Nad-e-Ali district.
The clashes broke out after the Taliban militants reportedly entrenched in the vicinity of civilian homes launched an attack on an Afghan National Army convoy.
The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan recorded 649 civilians casualties (dead and injured) as a result of aerial attacks in the first nine months of this year, the highest number in any any year since systematic recording began in 2009.
In April, an attack by the Afghan Air Force – which is trained and equipped by the US – killed 30 children in north-eastern Kunduz province at a graduation ceremony.
The US Air Force released nearly 6,000 weapons in the first 10 months of this year, compared to 4,361 in all of 2017 and 1,337 in all of 2016.
Most civilian casualties in Afghanistan are however still caused by anti-government groups like the Taliban and the Islamic State group (IS).
The Taliban are gaining ground across Afghanistan, as US officials pursue a peace deal that would bring an end to the 17-year war.
The militants attended a landmark international meeting earlier this month in Moscow and a delegation from the group has also recently held meetings with US envoys in Qatar.