A US drone strike has killed at least 34 people after it hit the funeral ceremony of a Taliban commander in Afghanistan's Khost province near the border with Pakistan. Afghan officials say the victims were Taliban fighters, while the group's spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid claimed all the victims were civilians who were attending the funeral.
Haidar Naeemzoi, representative of Afghanistan’s nomads in the lower house of the country’s national assembly, also said that all the victims were civilians.
“A US drone attacked people who were returning from the cemetery. The plane targeted two vehicles killing at least 15 people on the spot,” Naeemzoi said.
US drone strikes and civilian casualties have been a controversial issue in Afghanistan, where hundreds of people have died due to the air strikes. The number of civilians dying in Afghanistan reached all-time high in the first quarter of 2015, with studies showing at least 100,000 civilians have been killed in the country since the Taliban was toppled in late 2001.
The drone strikes have increased after US ground forces were reduced and with the Taliban intensifying its offensive in recent months.
At least 15 civilians have been killed in three separate bomb attacks across Afghanistan, local officials said on Saturday. The deaths were blamed on the Taliban.
Meanwhile, five Taliban representatives met with a delegation of Afghan women in Norway's capital for an informal talk, as part of a peace initiative.
Nine Afghan women, including five lawmakers and high-profile rights advocates Fawzia Koofi and Shukria Barakzai, attended the talks but few details of the discussions have been provided. Three of them are members of the Afghan government's High Peace Council negotiating body.
An Afghan official told the Associated Press that the women delegation were in Oslo as "independent representatives" from parliament, adding "they are not part of any [Afghan] government initiative, and were invited to an unofficial meeting, not as official delegates."
The meeting has been viewed as suggesting a "softening” of the Taliban’s position towards women, which is accused of violating women's rights, especially with respect to education. It is also seen as another step in peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban to end bloody fighting which killed thousands of people and left the country in ruins.
The latest meeting is part of talks hosted by the Norwegian government and follows informal talks in the Gulf state of Qatar, as Afghan president Ashraf Ghani has prioritised bringing the Taliban to the negotiating table.