Kabul says civilians killed in the US-Afghan operation were used as human shields by their alleged Taliban family members
No one in Boz Qandahari slept the night their village was destroyed by US air strikes.
For residents of the small village of mud houses, which lies on the outskirts of the northern Afghan city of Kunduz, November 2 will be remembered by the sounds of the battle raging around them.
"Stay inside, do not come out, we have come under Taliban ambush," the voice of an Afghan soldier echoed from a loudspeaker.
In the darkness, the air quickly filled with the sound of gunfire, bomb explosions and the whir of the US helicopters in the sky.
Afghan, NATO and Taliban accounts all confirm that at least two US soldiers were killed in an encounter with Taliban fighters earlier in the evening. Locals say it was civilians, not Taliban, who paid the price.
Women and children killed
At least 36 people were killed that night, among them were 11 children and six women. A baby, one-month-old, also died in the attack.
Kabul says three of their commandos died, in addition to the US soldiers. Local media reported that 14 Taliban fighters were killed.
Residents speaking to TRT World said the aerial bombings, which lasted for at least five hours, left much of their modest village destroyed.
"We could hear them, the women and children, but there was nothing we could do. We weren't allowed to step outside," village elder Mohammad Ayub said.
When the sun finally rose and the fighting had subsided, the chaos turned to grief.
Residents were forced to deal with the human toll of the latest bout of fighting in the ongoing Afghan war.
Villagers rushed to tend to the dead and injured. Others had to prepare for the inevitable reconstruction. At least 22 homes were razed.
The streets were bloodstained and the remnants of first aid kits were strewn on the roads, possibly from wounded Afghan soldiers locals said were calling out for help from their comrades.
"We could hear them screaming, calling for each other," Mohammad Ayub said.
Calls for justice
Allah Noor, another village elder, who lost six members of his family, including three women, said people demand justice.
"There is nothing left for me. My house is destroyed. My entire family is killed. Who will give them back to me, [President] Ghani, [Chief Executive] Abdullah or the infidels?"
He is most disturbed that he cannot be sure how exactly his family members: his two young sons, wife, daughter, elderly mother and father, died.
"I was with my family in the house, then suddenly the roof came down. Everything was destroyed."
The impact and shock of the blast left Allah Noor unconscious for hours.
"I don't even know if they died suddenly or if they were suffering because no one could come to rescue them," Allah Noor said as tears filled his eyes.
Haji Dawood, who said the homes of three families in his area came under fire, asks why civilian houses were targeted.
"The Taliban were clearly visible, but half the village was destroyed. When was the last time you saw a one-month-old or a woman fighting for the Taliban?"
Afghan and US officials acknowledge that civilians were killed in the fighting, but said they were awaiting the results of an investigation to confirm the exact figures.
Dawlat Waziri, spokesman for the Afghan ministry of defence, said he regretted the loss of civilian life, but accused the Taliban of using their own families as human shields.
The Taliban "shows no mercy with regard to their own families," Waziri said at a November 5 press conference.
Speaking at the same press conference, Brigadier General Charles H. Cleveland, the spokesman for the US military in Afghanistan, said: "Every aspect of this is clear that this was an effort to defend these troops who were down there trying to protect the people of Kunduz."
According to Waziri, the initial operation targeted a meeting of Taliban commanders in Boz Qandahari.
The gathering was reportedly held at the house of a local Taliban commander. Afghan and US officials said the gathering focused on yet another attempt by the armed opposition to retake Kunduz city.
However, locals decry Waziri's assertion that the dead and wounded were connected to the Taliban.
Increased civilian toll
"They did not kill the Taliban. They killed civilians. Women and children," Mohammad Ayub, the elder, said.
Not only do they deny that the Taliban were hiding in their homes, but residents said the Afghan National Security Forces had used the roofs of several area homes to fight the Taliban.
The anger at the deaths of their women and children led a group of Boz Qandahari residents to march to the governor's compound on Thursday, November 5.
My mom reflecting on Kunduz: at least when the Russians were there they fought face to face, now they just drop bombs on families by drone.— Wagma (@wagmamommandi) November 7, 2016
"If we keep silent they will continue killing us, our children, our women and our homes, they should give us justice or our entire village will stand against them," said Mohammad Ayub, the village elder.
Afghan social media was soon flooded with images of the dead bodies being carried to the city. It was a stark reminder that 15 years on, the latest conflict in Afghanistan is far from over and more than ever, civilians are at risk.
"This incident took place in the context of significant countrywide violence, with civilians bearing the brunt," a United Nations statement on their investigation into the killings read.
Since 2014, the UN's annual reports on civilian casualties have documented continuously record-setting rates of deaths and injuries to non-combatants as a result of the conflict.
According to the United Nations, the fighting in Boz Qandahari was just one example of 46 separate incidents of conflict-related violence that resulted in severe civilian harm between 30 October and November 5. The UN documented 206 civilian casualties, 95 deaths and 111 injured in that period.
Ehsan reported from Kabul