Air strike kills at least 20 civilians in Afghanistan

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According to UN figures, 313 civilians have been killed and 336 wounded in air strikes by US and Afghan forces in the nine months to the end of September, a 39 per cent increase from the same period in 2017.

Afghan Air forces helicopters fly over the site of a suicide attack followed by a clash between Afghan forces and insurgents during an attack on Iraq embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan, on July 31, 2017.
Afghan Air forces helicopters fly over the site of a suicide attack followed by a clash between Afghan forces and insurgents during an attack on Iraq embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan, on July 31, 2017. (Reuters Archive)

At least 20 Afghan civilians, including 12 children, were killed in an air strike targeting a Taliban commander in the eastern province of Kunar late on Friday, local officials said.

The strike, against a local Taliban commander named Sharif Mawiya, was the latest in a series of operations targeting senior insurgent field commanders, including the shadow governor of the strategic southern province of Helmand, who was killed on December 2.

Several Taliban military commanders have been killed since the beginning of the month by Afghan forces, backed by US advisers and air power but the tactic has also increased the risk of civilian casualties.

Abdul Latif Fazly, a member of the provincial council, said eight women and 12 children were killed and more than 15 civilians wounded in the incident.

Kunar governor Abdul Satar Mirzakwal said an operation by Afghan forces in Sheltan district killed 38 Taliban and al Qaeda members, including four foreign nationals, and wounded 12 more. He said the operation targeted Sharif Mawiya, a commander believed to be a facilitator with Al Qaeda militants.

He said an unknown number of civilians were hit in the strike but had no casualty details.

“We know that a number of civilians, including women and children have been killed but we are sending a fact finding team,” he said.

A spokeswoman for the NATO-led Resolute Support mission said it had not carried out any airstrikes in Kunar at the time of the incident. No comment was immediately available from the defence ministry.

Civilian deaths on rise

The number of Afghan civilians killed in US and Afghan air strikes has risen sharply this year as Western-backed forces have stepped up aerial operations with the aim of forcing the Taliban to agree to peace talks.

According to United Nations figures, 313 civilians were killed and 336 wounded in air strikes by US and Afghan forces in the nine months to the end of September, a 39 per cent increase from the same period in 2017.

Airstrike casualties accounted for eight percent of the total 8,050 civilian casualties during the period. The overall number of civilian casualties was roughly stable.

China to help bridge Pakistan, Afghanistan divisions

China pledged to help Afghanistan and Pakistan repair their longstanding strained ties, as officials from the three nations met on Saturday in the latest round of diplomacy aimed at opening talks with the Taliban to end the Afghan war.

Afghanistan's Foreign Minister Salahuddin Rabbani (sitting-C), Pakistan's Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi sign a memorandum of understanding on cooperation in fighting terrorism in Kabul, Afghanistan on December 15, 2018.
Afghanistan’s Foreign Minister Salahuddin Rabbani (sitting-C), Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi sign a memorandum of understanding on cooperation in fighting terrorism in Kabul, Afghanistan on December 15, 2018. (Reuters)

China, a close ally of Pakistan, has lately deepened its economic and political ties with Kabul and is using its influence to try to bring the two uneasy South Asian neighbours closer, at a time when the United States has sought Pakistan’s help with faltering Afghan peace talks.

The Chinese government’s top diplomat, State Councillor Wang Yi, met the foreign ministers of Afghanistan and Pakistan in Kabul to put into effect a memorandum of understanding on security cooperation and support for Afghanistan’s efforts to open talks with the Taliban.

“China approves of this, and is willing to provide support and help for Pakistan and Afghanistan to improve their ties,” Wang told reporters after the meeting.

The meeting, which followed initial talks between the three countries a year ago, is the latest sign of China’s increasing engagement in the region, where it has invested massively in the China–Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), a central part of its global Belt and Road initiative.

Pakistan and Afghanistan accuse each other of facilitating militants who conduct cross-border attacks in both countries. Another issue of content between the two neighbours is related to the internationally recognised border between Afghanistan and Pakistan called the “Durand Line.”

After the sub-continent’s independence from British colonists in 1947, Afghanistan was the only country to object to Pakistan’s admission in the United Nations over Kabul’s refusal to accept the once porous border which was routinely used by militants and smugglers alike.

Source: Reuters
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