Eight Afghan civilians killed in air strike amid US-Taliban peace deal

Relatives say the victims were driving home from a picnic when their truck was hit in eastern Nangarhar province on Friday. Officials are ascertaining whether US or Afghan government targeted the passengers.

Eight Afghan civilians killed in air strike amid US-Taliban peace deal
An Afghan man cries over the body of one of the victims of air strike in Surkhroad district of Nangarhar province, Afghanistan February 15, 2020. (Reuters)

An airstrike in Afghanistan has killed at least eight civilians, officials said on Saturday, as the country prepares for a "reduction in violence" under a deal between the Taliban and the United States.

The incident took place in the eastern province of Nangarhar on Friday when a vehicle carrying civilians was struck, according to Ataullah Khogyani, a spokesman for the provincial governor.

"The target of the attack was Taliban militants who wanted to establish checkpoints on the road, but unfortunately civilians were hit," he told AFP news agency, putting the death toll at eight.

Talib Khan, a relative of the dead, told AFP the victims had been driving home from a picnic when their truck was hit, killing everyone inside.

Another relative, Shah Mir, 70, said: "No other breadwinner is left in my house, all my three sons were killed. I have a dozen grandchildren, I don't know how to bring them up."

Probe launched

It was not immediately clear who bombed the vehicle, but the US and Afghan militaries are the only forces in Afghanistan conducting airstrikes.

A US military spokesman said they were "looking into the incident" and an Afghan defence ministry spokesman said they had launched an investigation.

The strike comes after US Defense Secretary Mark Esper said on Thursday an agreement with the Taliban was in place for a "conditions-based" seven-day reduction in violence.

The move is part of a long quest to forge a deal that could eventually lead to a comprehensive ceasefire.

It was not clear when the reduction in violence would start –– a Taliban official said it was imminent and a US official said on Friday it would begin "really soon".

Expectations are that agreement will be formally announced on Sunday and that the reduction in violence will begin on Monday, according to people familiar with the plan.

'Promising' deal 

On Saturday, Esper said the deal is not without risk but "looks very promising."

"So we have on the table right now a reduction in violence proposal that was negotiated between our ambassador and the Taliban," Esper told an audience at the Munich Security Conference. "It looks very promising."

"It's my view as well that we have to give peace a chance, that the best if not the only way forward in Afghanistan is through a political agreement and that means taking some risk," he said. 

"That means enabling our diplomats and that means working together with our partners and allies on the ground to affect such a thing."

A UN agency in Afghanistan in December reported that more than 100,000 Afghan civilians had been killed or wounded over the past decade –– a grim milestone after more than 18 years of war since the US and NATO allies invaded the country following the September 11 attacks in 2001.

News Source:- AFP