KABUL: The Afghan government has disputed a UN report on Monday claiming that 30 children were killed and 51 others injured in an Afghan airstrike last month in Kunduz province.
The airstrikes targeted a gathering at a religious school in Dasht-e-Archi district of northern Kunduz on April 2.
“We do not refute the report. There is difference in the figures (of the UN and the government),” Defense Ministry spokesman Mohammed Radmanesh told Arab News.
Initial reports after the attack said nine people had died and 55 had been wounded.
“Since the area where the operation was conducted was under control of the Taliban, the terrorists put pressure on the people to lie (to the UN reporters). The goal of the Taliban is to confuse the perception at home and in the international community,” Radmanesh said.
The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) said that it had been unable to substantiate the Afghan government’s claims that senior Taliban leaders were present at the time of the raid and that the attack had been carried out because the gathering had a military purpose.
In its latest statement, the UN agency confirmed 107 casualties — 36 killed and 71 injured — of which 81 were children.
“But UNAMA (has) received additional credible information indicating higher figures,” it said.
The world body said the religious ceremony was widely publicized and known in the area. About 400 posters were printed announcing the event and special guests from around the country.
The agency’s report is based on more than 90 interviews with victims, witnesses, government officials and medical personnel. Three community consultations were held in Kunduz city and accounts were taken during a fact-finding mission to the site of the attack.
“The high numbers of child casualties resulting from this attack, which took place in a civilian area during a religious ceremony, combined with the use of imprecise weapons in this context, raise questions as to the respect by the government of the rules of precaution and proportionality,” the UN report said.
“UNAMA’s findings indicate that the ceremony was religious in nature, had been widely advertised and known, and the crowd gathered was primarily civilian, many of whom were children, many under the age of 10.”
Witnesses told UNAMA that unarmed members of the Taliban were among the attendees, which was commonplace for gatherings in the area.
While several attendees claimed that some speakers conveyed political messages, none of the sources interviewed by UNAMA indicated the ceremony had a military purpose or any link to military activities, the report said.
“Those victims and witnesses interviewed by UNAMA consistently reported that helicopters approached and fired rockets into the crowd, striking children sitting at the rear of the ceremony first,” the report said, contradicting the government’s claims.
“UNAMA received multiple accounts from victims and witnesses that after the first rocket struck the crowd and people ran toward the nearby road and houses, the helicopters continued to launch rockets in the village and fire machine guns, reportedly following the path of individuals fleeing the area,” the report said.
The Afghan government has not yet released an official account of the civilian death toll, though it has promised to launch an investigation and release its findings.
Ahmad Saeedi, a political analyst, told Arab News that “the government cannot release its finding because civilians were indeed killed.”
“The government can neither afford the criticism nor it can punish those involved (in the air strikes),” said Saeedi.