Afghan Air Force Airstrikes Kill More Than a Dozen Civilians in Herat

0
75

KABUL, Afghanistan — Airstrikes in western Afghanistan killed more than a dozen civilians, according to residents and officials on Tuesday, adding to the record number of civilians who have died this year as violence has intensified.

The exact number of casualties in the airstrikes Monday afternoon in the Shindand district of Herat Province was unclear. Gaelany Farhad, a spokesman for the province’s governor, said that 13 civilians and 16 Taliban fighters had been killed in Zer Koh, a remote and mountainous area where factions of the Taliban have a foothold but have sometimes fought one another.

But several residents contacted by The New York Times said that the Taliban had left the area about three hours before the strikes, and that all of the victims were civilians, many of them women and children.

A spokesman for the American military in Afghanistan, which often carries out airstrikes to try to provide support to Afghan forces, said that the strikes on Monday were by the Afghan Air Force.

Dawlat Waziri, a spokesman for the Afghan Ministry of Defense, confirmed that the country’s air force had carried out the strikes, and said that 18 Taliban fighters had been killed. “There are reports of civilian casualties, and the government has appointed a delegation to investigate the incident,” Mr. Waziri said.

But a senior Afghan Air Force official in the west of the country, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the news media, denied his forces were involved.

As part of the new American strategy for Afghanistan, announced by President Trump last week, the United States plans to increase air support to Afghan forces trying to regain ground lost to a resurgent Taliban. The United States military used about 1,250 bombs and other weapons in Afghanistan in the first seven months of this year, almost twice as many as in the same period last year.

Amateur photographs and videos of the Herat airstrikes provided by residents but whose authenticity could not be independently verified showed men digging rows of graves in the barren desert and bodies wrapped in blankets lying next to one another. Other video footage showed destroyed mud huts and women wailing as they went from one charred body to the next. The dismembered bodies of young children could also be seen in the footage.

“From six families we know, 17 women were killed by the airstrikes yesterday afternoon,” Abdul Rasoul, a resident of Zer Koh, said in a phone interview. “I lost my sister, Shakiba, and cousins.”

Mr. Rasoul said the strikes happened between 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. Monday, and that the village had been under Taliban control, with no government presence.

“The Taliban had left the area three or three and a half hours before the airstrikes,” said Ghulam Farouq Hajizada, a rights activist. “Not a single person from the Taliban died — all of the casualties were civilians. The Taliban already knew that an airstrike would come in Zer Koh, that is why they left.”

Mullah Manan Niazi, one of the leaders of a Taliban breakaway faction that has been operating out of Shindand, said the group’s fighters had fled the area after seeing a large plane circling above.

Norruddin Khan, another resident of Zer Koh, also said 17 people had been killed.

Separately, a suicide bomber struck a bank in Kabul on Tuesday as civilians and military personnel lined up to withdraw cash before a Muslim holiday, leaving five dead and nine others wounded.

The Taliban claimed responsibility for the blast, which struck days after Islamic State fighters attacked a Shiite mosque, killing 40. Abdul Basir Mujahid, a spokesman for the Kabul police, said a suicide bomber on foot had detonated explosives at the gate of the bank, in a residential area near the American Embassy.

Naweed Hamkar, who survived the explosion, said that he had been withdrawing money from the bank’s A.T.M. and had helped a police officer behind him who did not know how to use the machine. He said he was having a snack in front of the bank when the attack started.

“I heard gunfire, when I turn my head, I saw the suicide attacker — he was wearing a white Afghan robe with a scarf,” he said. “I dropped to the ground, he had a pistol in his hand and he was firing on the policeman who was getting money from the machine. He fired four or five bullets and then he blew himself up.”

“After some five to 10 minutes,” he continued, “I understood it was finished and I started running.”

Kabul remained on high alert on Tuesday. Security officials have expressed concern that attacks are possible at large gatherings ahead of the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha this week.

Comments

comments