The United Nations confirmed Monday that ten children were among at least 13 civilians killed by a recent American military airstrike in northern Afghanistan.
The deadly attack occurred early Saturday near the capital city of volatile Kunduz province where Afghan and U.S. forces were conducting a joint operation against Taliban insurgents.
The U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) lamented the deaths while releasing preliminary findings of its investigation into the incident. It said work is ongoing to verify other reports of civilian casualties that occurred around the time of the airstrike.
“The Mission expresses serious concern that initial fact-finding indicates that 10 of those killed were children, part of the same extended family whom were displaced by fighting elsewhere in the country,” said UNAMA.
Officials and residents around the conflict zone said that insurgents had strongly resisted the joint Afghan-U.S. military raid in the Taliban-held Telawka neighborhood. The ensuing clashes killed two American soldiers and several local commando forces, prompting the U.S. military to launch the airstrike in support of forces on the ground.
U.S. officials confirmed the killing of two service members and carrying out an airstrike in the area, accusing the Taliban of using civilian areas as hideouts.
UNAMA urged parties involved in the airstrike to conduct their own enquiries into the incident and take immediate steps to safeguard civilians from harm. “Parties are urged to publish results of their findings, as well as provide appropriate compensation to victims.”
Civilians continue to bear the brunt of the 18-year-old war in Afghanistan. The armed conflict last year killed more than 3,800 civilians, including 927 children, the highest number of civilian deaths recorded in the past ten years, according to UNAMA.
The mission documented a sharp increase in civilian casualties in 2018 from aerial and search operations conducted by Afghan and U.S. militaries, blaming pro-government forces for an unprecedented 24 percent overall increase in civilian casualties.
Battlefield hostilities in Afghanistan have sharply increased with the advent of spring. The Taliban has inflicted heavy casualties on government forces in several provinces over the past few days.
The deadliest of the attacks occurred early Saturday in Sangin district of the southern Helmand province, killing at least 65 Afghan forces, including 48 military personnel.
The intensification in the war comes as Taliban and U.S. officials are due to reconvene soon to build on the progress they have achieved in recent negotiations to try to find a political resolution of the war.