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UN says 21 Afghan civilians killed in separate air strikes

Two separate air strikes over the weekend killed at least 21 civilians in Afghanistan, including 14 children, the UN said.

In a statement late on Tuesday, the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) said the 21 dead included 12 members of a family, as US and Afghan forces ramp up aerial bombings against armed groups.

Citing "preliminary findings", UNAMA said the 12 family members were killed on Sunday in an air strike in the eastern Maidan Wardak province during an Afghan military operation.

"Ten of those killed were children whose ages ranged from six to 15," including eight girls, it said, adding it was unclear whether the air strikes were carried out by Afghan or NATO forces.

The latest civilian deaths were reported after UNAMA said it had "credible" reports of nine members of a family killed in an air raid at the home of a teacher in Tagab district in the Kapisa province on Saturday.

Afghan defence ministry spokesperson Ghafor Ahmad Jawed said the operation in Maidan Wardak freed eight Afghan soldiers allegedly abducted by the Taliban and killed 11 fighters.

He said the ministry is investigating both the incidents.

There was no immediate comment from Afghan officials on the reported air strike in Kapisa province, according to The Associated Press.

Commander Grant Neeley, spokesperson for US forces in Afghanistan, said "we are currently reviewing all operational, relevant and credible information regarding our operations in Wardak and Kapisa provinces, including information provided by our Afghan partners and local leaders".

Referring to civilian casualties he said, "we take more care to avoid them than anyone else, ever".

UNAMA's findings support earlier comments from provincial council member Ahmad Jahfari who told AFP news agency that 12 members of a family had been killed in an air strike targeting Taliban fighters.

A villager named Abdullah said two of his sisters died in the attack. "Three other houses were also destroyed," he said. "They wanted to bomb a Taliban prison about 100m from our house."
Rise in civilian deaths

UNAMA expressed its "strong concern" at the rising number of civilian casualties from air strikes this year.

Air attacks killed 149 people and wounded more than 200 other civilians in the first half of 2018, up 52 percent from the same period last year.

The figure accounted for roughly seven percent of total civilian casualties for the six-month period.

One of the worst incidents occurred in the northern province of Kunduz in April, when an Afghan air strike on a religious gathering killed or wounded 107 people, mostly children, a previous UNAMA report said.

The government and military said the strike had targeted a Taliban base where senior members of the group were planning attacks.

US and Afghan forces have dramatically increased air offensives against Taliban and Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) fighters in the past year as they try to get the upper hand in the 17-year war.

US air force data shows it employed 746 weapons in July, the highest monthly total since November 2010.

That is more than double the 350 munitions used in July 2017, a month before US President Donald Trump announced his new strategy for Afghanistan, which gave American forces greater leeway to go after armed groups.

Afghanistan's fledgling air force has also accelerated bombardment as the US beefs up the country's aerial capability with more aircraft and better weapons.
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