The United Nations has announced it has dispatched a human rights team to Kunduz, Afghanistan, where an airstrike on Taliban-controlled territory appears to have caused dozens of casualties. The attack has been the subject of conflicting reports, with several media outlets placing the number of killed and wounded in the dozens, many of whom were civilians.
The U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan is “actively looking in to disturbing reports of serious harm to civilians yesterday,” the group tweeted, noting that it had a team at the site “establishing facts.”
Afghan officials say the country’s military had been targeting a suspected meeting of Taliban fighters in Dashti Archi district, as Reuters reports:
“Defence Ministry spokesman Mohammad Radmanish told a news conference in Kabul that aerial footage and images showed Taliban gathered in a compound with vehicles and motorbikes, carrying Taliban and Pakistani flags. Half of the victims had suffered gunshot wounds inflicted by the Taliban, he said.
“A senior Afghan defence ministry official said the attack killed at least 35 Taliban and wounded many more. Government officials circulated a list of 13 names they said were of Taliban commanders killed in the strike.”
Local villagers, however, say the bombing hit a religious gathering, killing a number of children.
“There were children as young as 11 or 12 years old in the ceremony who were to be presented with awards and gifts for the completion of their religious courses,” one witness told Al Jazeera. “Mothers are wailing and crying outside the hospitals for the death of their children and everyone is crying with them.”
The Associated Press, citing a spokesman for Kunduz’s provincial governor, reports that 55 civilians were wounded. The Taliban, for its part, denied the presence of its fighters in the area, saying in a statement that more than 100 clerics and other civilians were killed at an Islamic religious school.
Authorities there offered contradictory accounts immediately after the airstrike, but Afghan President Ashraf Ghani eventually acknowledged it likely resulted in loss of civilian life.
“The Afghan National Army, based on precise information, tried to destroy it to save the people from great disaster but there are reports that unfortunately civilian casualties were also caused in the attack,” Ghani’s office said in a statement Tuesday, according to Reuters.
“The NATO mission in Afghanistan sees building up the Afghan air force as a major priority,” NPR’s Diaa Hadid reports. “But strikes like these could turn Afghans against the army meant to protect them.”