Dozens of children are feared dead after an Afghan air strike on a religious school reportedly killed at least 59 people.
Hundreds of people were attending a graduation ceremony at the madrassa in a Taliban-controlled district in northeastern Afghanistan on Monday when Afghan Air Force helicopters struck, witnesses told AFP.
At least 59 people, including Taliban commanders meeting at the compound in the Dashte Archi district in Kunduz province, were killed in the attack, Afghan security sources said on condition of anonymity.
Most of the civilian victims were children, they said. The wounded were driven more than 50km to hospital for treatment.
On Tuesday, the United Nations said it was investigating ‘disturbing reports of serious harm to civilians’ in the airstrike.
Dozens of children are feared dead after an Afghan air strike on a religious school reportedly left at least 59 people dead. Pictured, an Afghan child receives treatment after the strike
In a brief statement, the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan said: ‘Human Rights team on ground establishing facts. All parties reminded of obligations to protect civilians from impact of armed conflict.’
‘I myself counted 35 bodies,’ Abdul Khalil told AFP at the hospital in the provincial capital Kunduz where health officials said 57 injured had been taken.
‘I arrived at the scene right after the airstrikes – it was like a butcher’s shop. Everywhere was covered with blood, the ground was littered with body parts, heads, limbs and other parts.’
A man called Yousuf, who was at the ceremony when the airstrikes happened, said he saw ‘blood and body parts everywhere’.
On Tuesday, villagers in the Afghan province of Kunduz said on Tuesday they had buried dozens of victims of the government air strike.
An Afghan child is seen on a stretcher on his way to hospital after Monday’s airstrike in Aghanistan’s Kunduz province
The UN says it is investigating claims that civilians were affected by an Afghan air strike on a school in a Taliban-controlled area
Sayed Jaan, a resident of the district of Dasht-i Archi, said he attended two mass funerals of almost 40 people, adding that other burials had taken place.
He said the helicopter attack happened during a religious ceremony, called Dastaar Bandi, to mark young men completing the memorization of the Koran, the Muslim holy book.
‘There were two mass graves to bury the victims of the bombing and I took part in both burials. In one grave, 16, and in another, 21. Many were young children,’ Sayed Jaan said.
‘There were other burials and people were digging graves.’
But so far, the defence ministry has denied civilians were among the casualties.
An Afghan resident is treated at a hospital following an airstrike in Kunduz on Sunday
An Afghan airstrike on a religious school in a Taliban stronghold on April 2 caused multiple casualties, including civilians, an Afghan security source and witnesses said
‘Twenty Taliban, including the commander of their Red Unit in the district, and also a key member of the Quetta Shura were killed,’ defence ministry spokesman Mohammad Radmanish told AFP on Monday.
The same number were wounded, Radmanish added.
The Red Unit is the insurgent group’s elite unit and the Quetta Shura is its leadership council.
A senior Afghan defence ministry official told Reuters the air attack killed at least 35 Taliban and wounded many more.
But he denied reports that civilians were harmed and said two senior Taliban commanders were among those killed.
But provincial government leaders including the governor and police had determined that the strike was against a Taliban meeting but it had also inflicted an undetermined number of civilian casualties, the governor’s office said.
An Afghan boy is treated at a hospital following an airstrike in the Char Dara district of Kunduz province
The Taliban said the airstrike hit a religious school during a graduation ceremony, killing dozens of civilians
The Taliban on Monday confirmed the attack on the madrassa, but denied militants had been meeting at the religious school.
According to Reuters, the Taliban said the strike killed 150 religious scholars and civilians and denied that any of their forces had been there.
The madrassa was run by Islamic scholars sympathetic to the Taliban but the facility was open to the public, a senior Taliban commander speaking from an unknown location in Pakistan told AFP on Tuesday.
He said as many as 2,000 people were at the school on Monday, including 750 students, for a graduation ceremony but denied senior Taliban leaders were present.
He estimated that 400 people had been killed and an unknown number wounded. The Taliban are known to exaggerate battlefield claims.
The Taliban said the strike killed 150 religious scholars and civilians and denied that any of their forces had been there. Pictured, a boy receives treatment in hospital
On Tuesday, villagers in the Afghan province of Kunduz said on Tuesday they had buried dozens of victims of the government air strike. Pictured, a boy in hospital
A video posted online by the Taliban showed at least four bodies of children, wrapped in white shrouds.
Other images circulated of children and adults being treated in hospital for injuries, but they could not be verified.
Several boys with their arms and legs bandaged were seen lying in beds and along the corridors of the hospital.
One of the security sources said the Taliban had started meeting at madrassas in the hope of avoiding airstrikes.
US and Afghan forces are increasing ground and air offensives against Taliban and Islamic State insurgents as they try to get the upper hand in the 16-year war.
One of the security sources said the Taliban had started meeting at madrassas in the hope of avoiding airstrikes
The casualties underlined the risk of greater use of air power under a new U.S. strategy announced last year to try to force the militant group to the negotiating table.
The Taliban briefly seized Kunduz city in 2015 and they overran it for a second time the following year.
U.S. air strikes destroyed a Kunduz hospital in 2015 killing 42 people, most of them patients and medical staff.
The city has been considered relatively secure over the past year or two but the Taliban control much of the surrounding area.
Building up the fledgling government air force has been a major priority for the NATO-led Resolute Support training and advisory mission.
Last year, more than 10,000 civilians died or were wounded in the war between Afghanistan’s Western-backed government and the militants, down 9 percent from the previous year, UNAMA said in a report in February.