The Afghan air forces targeted a Taliban gathering at a mosque in Hazara Qarluq village in Takhar on Wednesday morning in which at least 12 children were killed and 18 civilians were wounded, sources said.
Saleh, however, rejected claims, stating: “No child was killed in Afghan Air Force strike in Takhar.”
VP stated that the Taliban sniper unit “responsible for massacre of our special forces a day earlier was targeted.”
“The person responsible for spread of this venomous and fake news was arrested immediately. Talibs use houses and mosques as shield,” Saleh tweeted.
Saleh also wrote on Facebook that legal action would be taken against those “who make false allegations.”
Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch said in a report on Thursday that the Afghan government ordered an investigation into the incident. However, findings from investigations into other incidents of civilian casualties have not been made public and no one has been held accountable.
“Vice President Amrullah Saleh is trying to silence those who reported a potentially unlawful airstrike that killed civilians, including many children,” said Patricia Gossman, associate Asia director. “The government should immediately release anyone detained under Saleh’s order and carry out a thorough and impartial investigation of the airstrike.”
In response to the Human Rights Watch’s report, Saleh stated that the Afghan government has no intent to restrict the absolute rights of the people.
“We are standing against freedom to kill, freedom to kidnap, freedom to harass, freedom to rape, freedom to steal, freedom to a massacre, freedom to grab public land, freedom to extort & freedom to cage the defender of the freedom.”
“We aren’t silencing the lawful frees and freedoms,” he tweeted.
In recent weeks, Afghan government forces have sustained many casualties during intense fighting in Takhar province. The uptick in fighting comes amid rising numbers of Taliban attacks and little progress on the Afghan peace talks in Doha.
The laws of war permit attack only against military objectives, which include enemy fighters, weapons, and equipment. Warring parties are prohibited from deliberately attacking civilians, except those directly participating in hostilities. For a specific attack on a military objective to be lawful, it must discriminate between combatants and civilians, and the expected loss of civilian life and property must be proportionate to the anticipated military gain from the attack. Attacks that target civilians, that are indiscriminate, or that cause disproportionate civilian loss are unlawful.
It is not clear if Taliban forces were in the vicinity of the mosque. Mosques and schools are civilian objects not subject to attack unless being used for military purposes. Any Taliban fighters present would be required to take all feasible precautions to remove civilians from the vicinity.
The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) has reported that women and children comprised 65 percent of the civilian casualties from airstrikes by the Afghan air force for the first half of 2020. The Afghan government has a poor record of investigating such incidents.
“The Afghan government is obligated to investigate possible laws-of-war violations by their forces,” Gossman said. “The free expression rights of those reporting on alleged violations should be respected.”