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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 16 December 2018

US air strikes kill 30 Afghan civilians

The deaths were reported in Helmand province where there has been a surge in air operations

An Afghan boy, with his face covered, receives treatment at a hospital after an air strike in Helmand province, Afghanistan November 28, 2018. Reuters
An Afghan boy, with his face covered, receives treatment at a hospital after an air strike in Helmand province, Afghanistan November 28, 2018. Reuters

American air strikes have killed at least 30 Afghan civilians in the southern province of Helmand, officials said on Wednesday.

The deadly strikes reportedly took place in a firefight between Afghan special forces who were with US military advisers and Taliban fighters late on Tuesday.

The deaths were the latest casualties as Washington and allied forces step up air missions in a bid to drive the Taliban into peace talks.

Helmand provincial governor Mohammad Yasin Khan said troops had called in air strikes against Taliban fighters in Garmsir, causing both civilian and Taliban casualties. Ataullah Afghan, the head of Helmand provincial council, said that women and children were among those killed.

The Nato-led Resolute Support forces said Afghan forces and US advisers came under fire from Taliban equipped with machines guns and rocket-propelled grenades.

"At the time of the strike, the ground force was unaware of any civilians in or around the compound; they only knew that the Taliban was using the building as a fighting position," a force spokeswoman said in a statement.

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"We investigate every credible allegation of error and review every mission to learn, adapt and improve," she said.

The deaths are the latest in a growing civilian casualty toll caused by air strikes and underline the severity of the Afghan war even as moves to begin peace talks have picked up with contacts between US peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad and Taliban representatives.

The United Nations said last month the number of civilian casualties from air strikes in the first nine months of the year was already higher than in any entire year since at least 2009.

The increase has come together with a sharp jump in the number of air operations under a US strategy aimed at stepping up pressure on the Taliban to force them to accept a negotiated end to the 17-year war.

A Taliban delegation met with Mr Khalilzad in Doha in October and November to discuss ending the Afghan conflict. Mr Khalilzad has said he is "cautiously optimistic" for an end to the conflict.