The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) confirmed in an official statement that 26 civilians were killed in an airstrike by the NATO on the district of Garmser in the southern province of Helmand on November 28.
“Initial findings indicate that the vast majority of the victims were women and children. The Mission is actively working to verify information indicating up to 10 children were killed along with eight women, and three children were injured, including an eight-year-old boy,” the UNAMA said in its statement, which was released on November 30.
According to UNAMA, the incident took place during an operation involving Afghan and NATO forces. The deadly airstrike was conducted following engagements between the forces on the ground and the Taliban.
U.S. military spokesman Maj. Bariki Mallya acknowledged on November 28 that the airstrike was conducted by U.S. warplanes. However, he claimed that Taliban fighters were firing from the compound that was targeted.
“In self-defense, the ground force called an airstrike … After the strike, there were secondary explosions, we assess from explosives inside the compound. At the time of the strike, the ground force was unaware of any civilians in or around the compound; they only knew that the Taliban were using the building as a fighting position,” the Millitary Times quoted Maj. Mallya as saying.
The UNAMA said that the NATO has initiated an investigation into the incident and hoped that the findings will be shared in order to improve mitigation measures in future operations to prevent civilian casualties.
649 civilians were killed in Afghanistan between January 1 and September 30 of this year, according to Afghan sources. This is the highest number since UNAMA began documenting civilian casualties in 2009. Washington’s recent decision to boost its operations in the war torn country is likely the main reason behind this increase in casualties.