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Afghan officials investigating 14 civilian deaths after battle that involved U.S. airstrikes

An employee of Doctors Without Borders stands inside the charred remains of their hospital after it was hit by a U.S. airstrike in Kunduz, Afghanistan, in October 2015. (Najim Rahim/AP)

KABUL — Afghan officials Friday were investigating the cause of at least 14 civilian deaths in northern Kunduz province after a battle with the Taliban that involved U.S. airstrikes.

Mohammad Radmanish, a spokesman with the Afghan Defense Ministry, said joint Afghan and U.S. airstrikes occurred in the Chahar Dara district of Kunduz during a battle with Taliban forces Thursday.

“The Ministry of Defense is deeply saddened,” Radmanish said, adding that high-ranking officials within his department were traveling from Kabul to investigate.

Lt. Col. Martin O’Donnell, a NATO spokesman, said in an email that the United States carried out airstrikes in the area in support of Afghan troops.

But “on-the-ground assessment of those strikes reveals no indications they caused civilian casualties,” O’Donnell said.

Mohammad Yusuf Ayubi, a member of the Kunduz provincial council, said the people killed — including women and children — belonged to three families who lived less than 100 yards from a government base.

 “I do not know who carried out the airstrikes, but these people were killed in the aerial attack,” Ayubi said.

Kunduz, where Taliban forces have a strong presence, has been the site of civilian deaths caused by airstrikes in the past.

In April, Afghan airstrikes killed 36 civilians — most of them children — at an all-male religious ceremony in the Dasht-e-Archi district, according to a United Nations report. The report contradicted initial government claims that the attack targeted a Taliban stronghold.

In 2015, a U.S. gunship plane fired on a Doctors Without Borders hospital in Kunduz city, killing at least 30 people, including doctors and patients.

U.S. officials later said that those involved did not realize the buildings they targeted were a hospital. Sixteen people were disciplined in that incident, but the Pentagon found that it did not amount to a war crime because it was not intentional.

So far, 2018 has been a record year for civilian deaths in Afghanistan.

recent report by the U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan found that 1,692 Afghan civilians were killed in the first six months of the year, more than in any comparable period during the past decade.

Sharif Hassan contributed to this report.

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