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U.N. report: At least 30 children killed in Afghan airstrikes last month

Pakistani religious students in Lahore hold placards on April 9, 2018, during a demonstration against an April 2 Afghan airstrike in the northeastern province of Kunduz in Afghanistan. (Arif Ali/AFP/Getty Images)

KABUL — At least 30 children were among those killed in government airstrikes in northern Afghanistan last month, a U.N. report said Monday, raising questions about official claims that the attack targeted Taliban insurgents.

The United Nations Mission in Afghanistan, or UNAMA, said at least 36 people were killed — offering the first comprehensive casualty figures for the April 2 attack in Kunduz province, a stronghold of Taliban forces.

The Afghan government has acknowledged some civilian deaths in the attack but has not given a figure or said how many suspected Taliban fighters were killed. Afghan officials had no immediate comment on the U.N. report.

The report said that at least 30 of the 36 fatalities were children at what it described as an all-male religious ceremony in the Dasht-e-Archi district attended by men and children younger than 10. It said 71 people were wounded in the attack, including 51 children, according to accounts from more than 90 people, including victims, witnesses and government officials.

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The UNAMA team said it could not make a definitive judgment on government claims that the attack, apparently by helicopter gunships, hit mainly Taliban militants.

Witnesses told UNAMA that unarmed members of the Taliban were among the attendees, which was not uncommon for gatherings in the area, the report said.

But it said the findings indicated that “the ceremony was religious in nature, had been widely advertised and known, and the crowd gathered was primarily civilian, many of whom were children, many under the age of 10.”

It also said that the high number of children killed and injured and the use of “imprecise weapons” against an apparent religious ceremony “raise questions as to the respect by the government of the rules of precaution and proportionality.”

The Taliban has rejected Kabul’s accounts that top military figures from the militant group were present at the gathering, which it called a ceremony for graduates of a religious school. The Taliban said that more than 200 people were killed and wounded, all of them civilians.

Civilians have been killed during attacks by the Taliban and operations by Afghan government and U.S. forces in recent years.

In 2015, more than 40 patients and hospital staff members were killed in sustained U.S. airstrikes on a hospital operated by the aid group Doctors Without Borders after the Taliban briefly captured Kunduz city.

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