Overnight air strikes on the Afghanistan northern city of Kunduz have killed at least 30 civilians and injured dozens of others, local officials said.
The Wednesday evening air raids come nearly a month after Afghan and US forces expelled Taliban fighters from the city. The militant group has made Kunduz one of its prime targets in recent years.
"Afghan forces and coalition troops conducted a joint operation against the Taliban insurgents. In the bombardment, 30 Afghan civilians were martyred and 25 others were wounded," provincial spokesman Mahmood Danish said.
Locals say the number could be much higher. A provincial representative speaking to Afghan media said at least 100 civilians were killed and wounded in the strikes.
Angry civilians tried to bring the bodies of 16 civilians to the governor’s compound in protest but were stopped along the way. Images of the dead have been circulating on social media.
So about 26 civilians have been bombed to death in Kunduz recently but many media outlets still prefer to focus on 2 dead US soldiers?
— Emran Feroz (@Emran_Feroz) November 3, 2016
The US military released a statement acknowledging the air strikes but said they were ordered in response to Taliban fire that killed two of their service members.
The target of the air raids were reportedly two high-level Taliban commanders.
The Wednesday evening deaths mark the fourth instance of US soldier deaths in Afghanistan. Since the international troop withdrawal of 2014, the remaining US forces — just over 8,000 soldiers — have moved to a training and assisting mission in the Central Asian nation.
US forces “came under fire during a train, advise and assist mission with our Afghan partners to clear a Taliban position and disrupt the group's operations in Kunduz district," the statement read.
Airstrikes were conducted in #Kunduz to defend friendly forces under fire. All civilian casualty claims will be investigated.
— Resolute Support (@ResoluteSupport) November 3, 2016
The international coalition, led by the US and NATO, also issued a statement, saying: “All civilian casualty claims will be investigated.”
A Taliban statement said US forces did come under fire after they tried to arrest three of their fighters in the outskirts of the city. The armed group also claims that civilians were killed in the air strike.
Local officials have also begun an investigation into the claims of civilian deaths.
If confirmed, the deaths would mark one of the deadliest foreign air strikes in the northern province.
In 2009, a US air strike, ordered by German forces, led to more than 100 civilian deaths, when a German commander told US jet fighters to fire on the scores of people gathered around an abandoned fuel tanker said to be stolen by the Taliban.