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36, mostly children, killed in Kunduz airstrike: UNAMA

AT-KABUL: As many as 36 people – most of them children – have been killed and dozens other received injuries in aerial operations carried out by the Afghan forces helicopters following multiple rockets and firing heavy machineguns during an open-air ‘dashtar bandi’ religious ceremony next to a madrassa where hundreds of men and boys were gathered, the United Nation Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) said in its special reports on Monday.

The airstrike was launched on 2 April approximately at 12:30pm in Laghmani village, Dasht-e-Archi district of Kunduz province, in which several people were killed and wounded.

“As of 7 May, UNAMA verified 107 casualties (36 killed and 71 injured) according to its methodology, of which 81 were children (30 killed and 51 injured). According to the Government, the airstrike targeted senior Taliban leaders present in the area, including members of the Quetta Shura, as well as members of a Taliban ‘Red Unit’, who had allegedly gathered to launch an operation against Kunduz city,” the agency added.

The Government has acknowledged that civilian casualties took place and the President established a commission to look into the incident. The Governor of Kunduz also reportedly established a provincial-level investigative committee.

At the time of the report’s release, neither had publicly reported their findings, although the Government has informed UNAMA that it has documented civilian casualties from the incident.

The Taliban, through its public website, stated that its own internal investigation found over 200 casualties (59 killed and 150 injured), mainly children, scholars and elderly men attending the dashtar bandi ceremony, the report added

UNAMA is not able to confirm the civilian status of each individual killed or injured, nor is the mission in a position to determine the presence or actions of Taliban leaders or units at the time of the airstrike.

“However, even if the Government had a legitimate military target, UNAMA questions the extent to which the Government undertook steps and concrete measures to prevent civilian casualties, in accordance with its Civilian Casualty Mitigation Policy.”

A key finding of this report is that the Government used rockets and heavy machinegun fire on a religious gathering, resulting in high numbers of child casualties, raising questions as to the Government’s respect of the rules of precaution and proportionality under international humanitarian law, the report added.

Additionally, the timing and place of the attack, which occurred during a religious ceremony attended by hundreds of people, cannot be reconciled with the Government’s obligations under international humanitarian law to take all feasible measures to spare civilians and civilian objects from the harm of conflict, or, at minimum, to minimize incidental loss of civilian life and damage to civilian property, it added

While UNAMA is not in a position to determine whether the Government’s actions amounted to violations of international humanitarian law, including the rules of precaution and proportionality and the explicit prohibition against launching an indiscriminate attack affecting the civilian population, these factors raise serious concern and require further investigation by competent authorities.

The mission has urged the Government to investigate, fully document and conduct a transparent review of the circumstances that led to this incident and to take immediate steps to ensure accountability for those responsible along the chain of command. UNAMA further recommends the implementation of measures to strengthen accountability and transparency within the context of planning and conducting military operations in order to prevent unnecessary and unacceptable harm to civilians in the future.

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