Eight Civilians Killed in Afghan Strike on Freed Taliban Fighter

 In Afghanistan, Middle East, Terrorism, Air

Eight civil­ians were killed when an Afghan air strike hit a group of people who had gath­ered to cel­e­brate a Taliban commander’s recent release from prison, offi­cials said Thursday.

The strike in the west­ern province of Herat on Wednesday drew con­dem­na­tion from a top US diplo­mat and under­scores the wors­en­ing vio­lence in Afghanistan’s war even as the Taliban and Kabul are sup­posed to be prepar­ing for peace talks.

According to Ali Ahmad Faqir Yar, the dis­trict gov­er­nor in the area the strike took place, a group of people had gath­ered to wel­come the Taliban com­man­der.

“An air strike was car­ried out during the cer­e­mo­ny and civil­ians who par­tic­i­pat­ed were among those killed,” he told AFP, putting the toll at eight civil­ian dead and 16 wound­ed.

On their web­site, the Taliban said the insur­gent had been released from Bagram prison out­side Kabul on Tuesday.

It was not imme­di­ate­ly clear if the com­man­der had sur­vived the attack or how many insur­gents were killed or wound­ed. The defense min­istry said it was inves­ti­gat­ing.

The com­man­der had been freed under a contentious prisoner swap that is seen as a cru­cial step toward even­tu­al peace talks.

The exchange, out­lined in a deal between the Taliban and the US in February, will see the Afghan gov­ern­ment release 5,000 insur­gents while the Taliban free 1,000 Afghan secu­ri­ty force cap­tives.

Kabul has protest­ed that many among the Taliban inmates being released are dangerous fighters who will return to the bat­tle­field.

On its web­site, the Taliban accused the gov­ern­ment of inten­si­fy­ing “raids on the homes of pris­on­ers who have just been released.”

In recent months, violence levels have soared in Afghanistan, with the Taliban car­ry­ing out near-daily attacks against security forces.

In a sep­a­rate inci­dent in the east­ern province of Nangarhar on Wednesday, at least 31 Taliban fight­ers were killed in clash­es with secu­ri­ty forces, the defense min­istry said.

Zalmay Khalilzad, the US spe­cial envoy to Afghanistan, condemned the latest blood­shed. “The last 24 hours have been very vio­lent in Afghanistan with many losing their lives,” he said on Twitter.

Khalilzad said pho­tographs and wit­ness accounts indi­cat­ed that many civil­ians includ­ing chil­dren had been killed in the Herat strike.

“We urge all sides to con­tain the vio­lence, pro­tect civil­ians, and show nec­es­sary restraint as the start of intra-Afghan nego­ti­a­tions is so close,” Khalilzad said. “More graves will not bring nego­ti­a­tions for­ward.”

Afghanistan’s mil­i­tary has a US-backed air force that in recent years has gained greater capa­bil­i­ty to con­duct air strikes.

The Defense Post source|articles

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