Afghan gov’t airstrikes kill 2 children, officials say

DE-HAJI, Afghanistan (AP) — Afghan government helicopters killed two children, ages 10 and 12, and left at least two children wounded and two others missing after bombarding a village in the eastern Ghazni province, officials and local witnesses said Tuesday

The fighting comes as Afghan government representatives and the Taliban are holding face-to-face talks in Qatar for the first time, in an effort to end the country’s decades-long war.

There has been a sharp rise in violence this year and a surge of attacks by the Taliban against Afghanistan’s beleaguered security forces since the start of peace talks in September, in addition to deadly attacks last month claimed by Islamic State militants.

Ghazni’s provincial council chief, Nesar Ahmad Faqiri, said Tuesday that Afghan military helicopters were attempting to target Taliban militants in the village, and hit the children by mistake. He said the insurgents were able to escape the village after the airstrikes.

The provincial governor’s spokesman, Wahidullah Jumazada, said two children were dead and two wounded, all under the age of 12. However, he could not confirm what caused the explosion.

Residents of De-Haji village told The Associated Press that five children were wounded and two were missing. It was not immediately clear why there were differing casualty figures.

The villagers said helicopters had bombed the village’s mosque, school and residential buildings on Sunday.

Witnesses described how the two boys were killed in their family’s grocery store, which was housed in a shipping container. Residents said the boys’ father had left them alone in the store while he went for lunch at a religious ceremony, and the wounded children were not part of the same family.

“The brothers’ bodies were badly burnt, they were unrecognizable,” said a witness, Abdul-Qayoom, who like many Afghans goes by one name. He said the two missing children were possibly buried under the remains of the shipping container.

A tribal elder, Shahabuddin, said five wounded children had been taken to a hospital in the capital, Kabul, and were in critical condition.

In Ghazni province on Sunday, at least 31 soldiers were killed and 24 others wounded in a suicide car bombing that struck an army commando base. Afghanistan’s Defense Ministry released lower casualty figures, saying 10 soldiers were killed and nine wounded. No one immediately claimed responsibility for the attack.

The United States has been pressing in recent weeks for a reduction in violence, while the Afghan government has demanded a cease-fire. The Taliban have refused, saying a cease-fire will be part of negotiations, although the group has held to their promise not to attack U.S. and NATO troops.

The U.S., meanwhile, plans to withdraw an estimated 2,500 troops before the middle of January, leaving about 2,000 soldiers in Afghanistan as part of America’s longest war. Afghan officials have expressed concerns that a rapid reduction in American troops could strengthen the negotiating position of the Taliban.

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Akhgar reported from Kabul, Afghanistan.

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