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Over 30 Taliban killed in Afghan air strikes

KABUL: The Afghan air force conducted multiple strikes on Taliban positions on Saturday that killed more than 30 insurgent fighters, officials said, as President Ashraf Ghani once again called for a ceasefire.

The Taliban claimed the strike had killed nearly two dozen civilians including women and children in the latest mass-casualty incident in Afghanistan that came even as peace talks were under way in Qatar.

“This morning, Taliban fighters attacked (Afghan army) positions in … Khanabad district in Kunduz province,” the Defence Ministry said in a statement on Twitter.

The military “intercepted the attack in accordance with ‘active defense’ procedures,” the statement added, noting that more than 30 Taliban fighters including two commanders were killed.

In a statement, the Taliban denied its fighters were hit and said 23 civilians had been killed. The defence ministry said it was aware of the claim and would investigate.

Local hospital director Mohammad Naeem Mangal said that three dead and three wounded civilians had been brought to the facility.

The attack came shortly before Ghani once again called for a humanitarian ceasefire “to protect our people, prevent violence and terrorist incidents and to achieve a dignified and lasting peace.” The insurgents have so far ignored such requests, though they have unilaterally called two short, separate truces this year in the run-up to peace talks, which opened a week ago in Doha.

Talks have progressed slowly so far, with the two sides still undecided about an agenda.Defence ministry officials in Kabul, who said more than 40 Taliban fighters had been killed in the strikes, did not confirm any civilian casualties. They said an investigation was underway into the incident which comes as the warring sides hold peace talks.

“The first strike hit the Taliban base but the second one caused civilian casualties as they had gathered at the bombed site,” said Fatima Aziz, a member of parliament who represents Kunduz.

She said 11 civilians were killed and five people were missing in the Khanabad district of Kunduz province.

According to another witness, the airstrikes left 12 civilians killed, including children, and 18 others injured. The witness said that several Taliban militants had been killed.

The Taliban issued a statement accusing Afghan forces of killing at least 40 civilians in the airstrikes. The hardline militant group did not comment on casualties among their fighters. Fighting between Afghan forces and the Taliban has continued even as representatives of the government and the insurgents gathered last week for historic peace talks aimed at ending two decades of war.

The negotiations are a result of a deal between the Taliban and the US signed in February, which also paved the way for the withdrawal of all foreign forces by May 2021.

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