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UN Criticizes Afghan Strikes On Religious Ceremony

An Afghan pilot stands next to a line of U.S.-made MD-530 helicopters in Kabul.
An Afghan pilot stands next to a line of U.S.-made MD-530 helicopters in Kabul.

The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) has criticized Afghan security forces over air strikes carried out on a village in the northern province of Kunduz in April, saying 36 people -- 30 of them children -- were killed in the operation.

In a report released on May 7, UNAMA questioned the extent to which the government tried to prevent civilian casualties, saying that Afghan Air Force helicopters used rockets and heavy machine-gun fire when they attacked a religious ceremony attended by hundreds of men and boys in the village of Laghmani on April 2.

The report says 71 people were injured in the attack, including 51 children.

The operation raised questions about the government's respect for "rules of precaution and proportionality under international humanitarian law," the report says.

The Afghan government has said the air strikes targeted senior Taliban leaders in the area, including members of the Taliban leadership council, the Quetta Shura, and fighters from the Red Unit, said to be the militants' special-forces-like commando unit, who allegedly gathered to launch an operation against the provincial capital, Kunduz city.

UNAMA noted that the Afghan government has acknowledged there were civilian casualties and that President Ashraf Ghani had established a commission to investigate the events.

It said the governor of Kunduz had also reportedly established a provincial-led investigation.

But no findings have been publicly released yet.

The Taliban claimed 59 people were killed and 150 were injured -- mainly children, religious scholars, and elderly men at the religious ceremony.

"UNAMA is not able to confirm the civilian status of each individual killed or injured," the report said, adding that UNAMA is not in a position to determine whether Taliban leaders or fighters were present during the air strikes.

But it said concerns remained about the attack "even if the government had a legitimate military target."

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