WASHINGTON — A U.S. airstrike on Saturday killed scores of civilians in Char Dara district, in Afghanistan’s Kunduz province, according to local officials.

A senior Afghan defense official told Military Times that a U.S. airstrike was conducted in the region.

Navy Capt. Thomas Gresback, a spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition in Afghanistan, confirmed in a statement that an operation took place in Kunduz Saturday.

“We are aware of the allegations regarding the potential for civilian casualties as a result of combined operations in Northern Afghanistan,” according to a press release Sunday from Resolute Support mission.

U.S. officials in Kabul said the incident is under investigation.

Afghan commandos have been engaged in fierce fighting with the Taliban in the region over the last several days, according to social media posts by Ahmad Jawid Salim, a spokesman for the commandos.

However, Salim pushed back on the claims that any civilians were killed in the airstrikes, according to posts on his Facebook page.

“Our operations did not harm any civilian personnel,” he posted Saturday. He further blamed civilian casualties on the Taliban.

Afghan commandos have been backed by U.S. airpower in the region. According to Jawid’s post, an airstrike destroyed a Taliban strategic headquarters on Nov. 1. And Saturday, Salim claimed Qari Ezatullah, a commander for the Taliban’s infamous elite special forces known as the Red Unit, was killed yesterday by Afghan commandos.

Kunduz has been a difficult area to clear for U.S. and Afghan forces. The city has twice fallen to Taliban militants over the last couple years.

The Taliban claimed the strike was conducted by a U.S. B-52 bomber.

U.S. B-52s have been active in Afghanistan since late March, according to officials at U.S. Air Forces Central Command. The B-52s have released more than a quarter of all the munitions dropped in Afghanistan so far this year, according to Jose Davis, a spokesman for U.S. Air Forces Central Command.

“U.S. Air Force B-52s have been consistently conducting operations in support of Operation Freedom’s Sentinel and Resolute Support mission since late March 2017, employing more than 800 weapons against the Taliban, Al-Qaeda and ISIS-K,” Davis told Military Times.

According to monthly data published by AFCENT, U.S. warplanes have dropped 2,901 bombs in Afghanistan as of Sept. 30.

It is not known at this time if the heavy use of American B-52s is a result of the deteriorating security situation on the ground in Afghanistan.

“Tactical situations can vary, and different aircraft can be optimized to do different things, depending on a mission’s need for distance traveled over time, loiter time over a target, weapon’s capacity, etc. That said, the B-52 has a large payload capacity and extended loiter time, making it ideal for lengthy missions to Afghanistan,” Davis said.

The incident is currently under investigation, according to U.S. officials in Kabul.

Shawn Snow is the senior reporter for Marine Corps Times and a Marine Corps veteran.

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