Preliminary findings from the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) indicate that as many as 23 civilians were killed and three injured in an airstrike in Garmser district of Helmand province during operations conducted by pro-government forces against Taliban in the area on Tuesday.
“Initial findings indicate that the vast majority of the victims were women and children,” UNAMA said in a statement.
The Mission is actively working to verify information indicating up to 10 children were killed along with eight women, and three children were injured, including an eight-year-old boy, the statement said.
According to the statement, the incident took place during an operation involving Afghan and international military forces, when international military forces conducted an airstrike following engagements between the forces on the ground and Taliban.
In addition, three days earlier, during fighting between Taliban and pro-government forces, three civilian homes were struck by explosive ordnance in Nad-e-Ali district of Helmand province, killing two civilians and injuring at least 14 more, including 10 children, reportedly after Taliban initiated an attack from the vicinity of civilian homes against an Afghan National Army convoy returning to its base, the UN statement noted.
“The Mission welcomes indications that relevant authorities have initiated investigations into the civilian casualty reports, and it will continue its independent enquiries to establish additional facts, sharing the findings with parties as part of advocacy efforts for improved mitigation measures in their future operations to prevent civilian casualties,” UNAMA said.
This comes as UNAMA has this year recorded a sharp increase in civilian casualties from aerial attacks in the first nine months of 2018 compared to the same period in 2017.
The 649 civilian casualties recorded between 1 January and 30 September 2018 is more than the number of civilian casualties from aerial operations recorded over every entire year since UNAMA began systematic civilian casualty documentation in 2009.
In the two incidents in Helmand province this week, UNAMA notes with particular concern that children were disproportionately impacted, comprising 55 percent of the civilian casualties.
UNAMA said that it reminds all parties to the conflict to uphold their obligations to protect civilians from harm, and holds that all parties to the conflict must strictly adhere to their obligations under international humanitarian law to take all feasible measures to protect civilians.