An air strike by the Afghan military killed 11 children and a prayer leader at a mosque, local authorities said Thursday, in an account disputed by the national government.
The strike on a village in northeastern Takhar province on Wednesday came as Afghan security forces clashed with suspected Taliban fighters, according to provincial police spokesman Khalil Aseer.
‘The air strike was carried out when the victims were busy studying the Holy Qur’an,’ Aseer said, adding a prayer leader was killed and 11 students. He said 14 others were wounded.
Mohammad Jawad Hejri, the spokesman for the provincial governor, also said the strike had killed children.
But the ministry of defence — who confirmed the strike was carried out by the Afghan air force — denied civilians had died. ‘Twelve Taliban including several of their commanders were killed,’ it said.
Afghanistan’s vice president Amrullah Saleh said news that children had died in a mosque ‘was baseless’.
‘Those who spread rumours will be dealt with,’ he wrote on Facebook. The ministry of defence said it had appointed a team to investigate.
‘The enemy bombarded the mosque at a time when tens of children were busy in religious studies,’ the Taliban said in a statement, adding the air strike had destroyed the mosque.
The Afghan military has a fledgling air force and small attack planes capable of conducting limited close-air support for troops on the ground.
Heavy fighting in Takhar since Tuesday has left at least 25 Afghan security personnel dead, officials have said.
Despite joining peace talks with the government in Qatar last month, the Taliban have only increased violence in a bid to wield leverage in the negotiations.
The top US envoy to Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, said earlier this week that fighting is threatening the peace process.
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