ISLAMABAD - The United Nations announced Tuesday its initial findings have indicated recent airstrikes by pro-government forces in Afghanistan killed at least 21 civilians, almost all of them women and children.
The latest Afghan civilian casualties occurred in Kapisa and Maidan Wardak provinces on Saturday and Sunday, respectively, where Afghan forces, together with coalition partners, were conducting counter-Taliban operations, local officials said.
The U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), while sharing initial details of its ongoing investigations into both the incidents, noted its strong concern with the rising number of civilian deaths and injuries from airstrikes this year.
The "aerial ordnance" destroyed a house in Jaghato district, Madan Wardak, late Sunday and killed 12 civilians, UNAMA said.
"All of the victims were women and children from the same family. … Ten of those killed were children whose ages ranged from 6 to 15. Eight were girls," the mission noted.
Afghan officials said the raid targeted a Taliban-run prison and rescued eight people, mostly members of the Special Forces. They added the operation killed more than 40 insurgents.
In the second incident in Kapisa, air operations destroyed the home of a teacher in Tagab district and killed nine civilians, including four children and three women, UNAMA said, citing multiple "credible" reports.
"All the victims from the attack were from the same family, including grandparents and children aged between 2 and 12. Five of the six other family members who were injured when their home was destroyed were women and young children," the mission said, adding it is still in the process of establishing facts.
A statement by the U.S. military Monday confirmed an airstrike in Kapisa, which wounded six members of local pro-government militias. However, it denied the attack caused "casualties of noncombatants."
UNAMA noted that it continues to work to verify whether Afghan or international military forces were responsible for the civilian casualties from recent strikes.
The U.N. mission reminded all parties to the conflict to uphold their obligations to protect civilians from harm, and called for ensuring independent and "effective" investigations into these incidents.
UNAMA has documented a 52 percent increase in civilian casualties from air operations by Afghan forces and their foreign partners in the first six months of 2018, with women and children accounting for more than half of the casualties.
The mission warned Tuesday that since the release of UNAMA’s midyear report on civilian casualties, it has continued to record increasing numbers of civilian casualties caused by airstrikes.