US-based group: Dramatic increase in Afghan gov’t airstrikes

A U.S.-based institute warned on Tuesday that there has been a dramatic increase in airstrikes conducted by Afghan government forces from July to September this year, attacks that have led to a sharp rise in civilian casualties.

The Watson Institute of International and Public Affairs, a research center at Brown University, said in its report that 70 Afghan civilians have been killed in the third quarter of this year, compared to 86 killed in the first six months of 2020.

The somber statistic comes even as Afghan government representatives and the Taliban are holding negotiations about a peaceful resolution to the country┬┤s 19-year war. The talks have been underway since September in Qatar, where the Taliban maintain a political office. The two sides last week finally made a step forward after a long impasse, agreeing on rules and procedures for the negotiations.

In its report, the institute also said that from 2017 through 2019, civilian deaths due to U.S. and allied forces┬┤ airstrikes in Afghanistan dramatically increased. In 2019, airstrikes killed 700 civilians – more civilians than in any other year since the beginning of the war in 2001 and 2002.

The civilians have borne the brunt of the fighting, despite repeated pleas from the United Nations to spare civilian lives. A resurgent Taliban have gained control of almost half of Afghanistan over the past years, the strongest the insurgents have been since their regime was ousted by the U.S.-led invasion in 2001.

Among the casualties included in the research institute’s statistics are the 24 Afghan civilians, including children, killed in government airstrikes in northern Kunduz province on Sept. 19.

Villagers said an initial airstrike targeted a house belonging to a Taliban fighter, whose home doubled as a checkpoint for stopping and frisking people to ensure they were not connected to the government. The explosion set fire to a nearby home, trapping a family inside, said Latif Rahmani, who witnessed the airstrikes and spoke to The Associated Press by phone.

Rahmani said farmers and villagers ran to douse the fire and rescue the trapped family members inside when a second airstrike hit, killing many of them.

Despite the talks in Qatar, the violence has continued, claiming more lives, including those of children. At least 12 civilians, mostly children, were killed in an airstrike that hit a madrassa, or an Islamic school, in northern Takhar province in mid-October.

Last Tuesday, 9-year-old Mohammad Bilal, a second-grader in eastern Ghazni province, had gone out to the village grocery store – a shipping container – to buy candy for himself, when Afghan helicopters bombarded his village.

He was killed when one of the 12 rockets that hit the village struck the store, said his father, Javed Zamani. Two of the shopkeepers children were also killed in the store, while five children aged 10 to 12 were critically wounded and were transferred to a Kabul hospital.

Afghan officials claimed the helicopters were targeting Taliban militants in the village and hit the children by mistake. The Taliban control much of Ghazni province, including the rural areas.