The fighting along a main infiltration route from Pakistan on Saturday was indicative of a surge in hostilities as Afghanistan’s spring fighting season gets underway. This year’s will be closely watched because Afghan forces are having to contend with less support from the international military coalition, making it a test case of their ability to take on the country’s resilient insurgency.
The U.S.-led coalition confirmed that it launched airstrikes in Kunar province where the deaths occurred, stressing that they were requested by international forces. The coalition said it was assessing the incident, but could not confirm that civilians were killed.
The battle unfolded on Saturday, the same day that a total of six Americans, including three U.S. soldiers, died in violent attacks. In addition to the U.S. adviser killed during the operation in the east, two others — a female foreign service officer with the U.S. State Department and an employee with the U.S. Defense Department — died in a suicide bombing in southern Zabul province during a trip to donate books to Afghan students.
The deaths capped one of the bloodiest weeks of the almost 12-year-old war. On Wednesday, insurgents ambushed a courthouse in the relatively safe west, killing more than 46 people.
The death of Afghan civilians caught in the crossfire has been a major point of contention between international forces and the Afghan government. Earlier this year, Afghan President Hamid Karzai banned his troops from requesting coalition airstrikes.
In the latest incident, Associated Press photos showed villagers gathered for the funerals of the children whose bodies were swaddled in blankets. A garland of flowers adorned the head of a dead baby.
Afghan officials said the airstrike occurred after a joint U.S.-Afghan force faced hours of heavy gunfire from militants. The joint force was conducting an operation targeting a senior Taliban leader that began around midnight Friday in the Shultan area of Kunar’s Shigal district, according to tribal elder Gul Pasha, who also is the chief of the local council.