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Afghan air strike killed and wounded 107 boys and men: UN

Rockets and heavy machine guns fired from Afghan government helicopters killed and wounded at least 107 boys and men attending a religious ceremony near the northern city of Kunduz last month, according to a United Nations report.

Key points:

  • 30 children among at least 36 killed
  • Witnesses said helicopters swooped down and fired into a crowd
  • Afghan military is trying to break stalemate with Taliban

On April 2, villagers in Dasht-i Archi district of Kunduz said dozens of people including many children were killed in an attack, prompting the UN to launch an investigation.

The UN report underlined the risks of a new strategy, developed with US advisers, which has seen a big build-up in Afghan air power, with rocket-equipped helicopters and attack aircraft deployed to try to break a stalemate with the Taliban.

"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," the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) said.

It said at least 36 people, including 30 children, were killed and 71 wounded and there were questions "as to the Government's respect of the rules of precaution and proportionality under international humanitarian law".

Investigators verified 107 victims but had received victims' lists from various sources indicating over 200 casualties, the report said, noting that it did not claim to be providing final, verified civilian casualty figures.

It said there were serious concerns about the incident that required further investigation but said it was not in a position to determine whether the attack amounted to a violation of international law.

Helicopters continued to attack as people fled: UN

According to the UN report, based on interviews with more than 90 witnesses, the helicopters swooped down, firing rockets and .50 calibre machine guns into a crowd attending a so-called dastar bandi ceremony in Laghmani village, Dasht-e-Archi.

The ceremony celebrates boys who have learned the Koran by heart.

It said as many as 12 rockets may have been fired at the meeting, held in a field about the size of a football pitch, which was adjacent to a madrassa.

The helicopters continued to attack as people fled towards nearby roads and houses but the UN could not verify allegations that they deliberately targeted civilians and could not determine the civilian status of each person killed or injured.

In the wake of the attack, the Government acknowledged that civilians had been killed and President Ashraf Ghani ordered an investigation but so far no results have been made public.

Reuters

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