U.S. Probing Civilian Deaths After Afghan Taliban Prison Strike

  • 22 Taliban militants, hostages killed, Kunduz government says
  • Afghan Taliban say U.S. airstrikes killed six prisoners

The U.S. is investigating allegations of civilian deaths after it conducted two airstrikes in northern Afghanistan said to have targeted a Taliban prison, weeks after President Barack Obama authorized an expanded military role including close air support.

The strikes on Saturday killed at least 16 Taliban militants at a prison in the Chahar Dara district of Kunduz province, Sayed Mohammed Danish, a spokesman for the governor of Kunduz, said by phone. The Taliban retaliated by killing six Afghan hostages who were among 200 bus passengers abducted last month traveling to the north, Danish said. Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahed said a U.S. drone strike was responsible for the prisoner deaths.

“We’re aware of the allegations of civilian casualties and are working with our Afghan counterparts to look into it,” the U.S. military in the Afghan capital, Kabul, said in a statement on Tuesday. “We can confirm that U.S. forces conducted two airstrikes in the Chahar Dara district of Kunduz province on June 25 in support of Afghan National Defense and Security Forces strategic operations.”

Obama this month broadened the U.S. military mission in Afghanistan he had long hoped would be over by year-end, in a sign that peace negotiations and nation-building in the war-torn nation have foundered. American forces, who had been aiding their Afghan counterparts not only in training and advising, were authorized to also accompany them on the ground and in the air.

‘Brutal Airstrike’

“The brutal American airstrike destroyed a prison in Kunduz, killing six soldiers of the Kabul administration and wounding two others,” Mujahed said in an e-mailed statement. “The prison’s director Mullah Janat Gul Usmani was also martyred along with his four friends in the attack.”

Obama, who ran for his second term on a platform that included ending U.S. involvement in wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, decided in October 2015 to delay a planned draw-down and maintain 9,800 U.S. troops in Afghanistan through 2016. The expanded U.S. role came less than a month after a U.S. drone strike in Pakistan killed Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansour.

The U.S. has failed to make headway on peace talks with the Taliban, forcing Obama to alter plans for removing most American troops from Afghanistan.

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