US Confirms Airstrike Killed 33 Afghan Civilians in Kunduz
A joint military operation in northern Afghanistan in early November killed 33 Afghan civilians and wounded 27 more, the United States military said Thursday while releasing details of its investigation into the incident.
The deadly attack in Boz village in the restive Kunduz province flattened dozens of houses, according to residents and Taliban insurgents. The joint operation was conducted to capture Taliban leaders who were plotting to seize the provincial capital of Kunduz, according to Afghan and U.S. military officials.
“To defend themselves and Afghan forces, U.S. forces returned fire in self-defense at Taliban who were using civilian houses as firing positions,” the U.S. military said Thursday.
“Regardless of the circumstances, I deeply regret the loss of innocent lives. … I wish to assure President Ghani and the people of Afghanistan that we will take all possible measures to protect Afghan civilian,” the statement quoted General John Nicholson, commander of U.S. Forces in Afghanistan, as saying.
Afghan special forces planned the raid against the Taliban hideout in Kunduz with the help of a small group of American military advisors. But the insurgents swiftly engaged them, opening fire from multiple civilian buildings, the U.S. military explained in its investigation.
“U.S. and Afghan forces were forced to request aerial fire support from U.S. platforms in self-defense. Aerial fires were also used to suppress Taliban who were firing on U.S. medical evacuation assets as the dead and wounded were evacuated,” it said.
No further action will be taken because it has been determined that U.S. forces acted in self-defense and followed all applicable law and policy, the statement concluded.
The fire exchange killed two U.S. soldiers and three Afghan commando forces while 26 Taliban militants, including their leader, were also killed and around 26 wounded, it added.
“A Taliban ammunition cache was struck and exploded which also destroyed multiple civilian buildings and may also have killed civilians.”
The Taliban insurgency at the time had claimed that only three of its members were present in the area when they came under attack from Afghan and U.S. forces.
A U.S airstrike in Kunduz in October 2015 hit a medical facility run by Doctors Without Borders, killing at least 42 people, including 24 patients and 14 staff. Around 40 people were wounded in the raid that destroyed the only treatment center in the area.
The attack happened after the Taliban briefly captured Kunduz, days before Afghan forces with the help of U.S. airpower evicted the insurgents from the city.
The U.S. military said the attack was a mistake and apologized for it, though it did not calm criticism and demands for conducting an impartial inquiry into the incident.
The Kunduz province has since been under attack from the Taliban and the insurgents came close to retaking the provincial capital this past October.
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