KUNDUZ, Afghanistan (Reuters) - As many as 14 people, including women and children, were killed in an air strike carried out during an operation by Afghan security forces near the northern city of Kunduz on Thursday, officials said.
The civilian deaths add to a total that reached record levels in the first half of the year, according to a United Nations report this week that noted a sharp jump in casualties from air strikes.
Nematullah Temori, a spokesman for the Kunduz governor, said the 14 killed in the raid in Chardara, a district outside Kunduz city that has long been fought over between Taliban and government security forces, included women and children.
The incident underlined the risks from the increased use of air power under a U.S. strategy designed to force the Taliban to accept peace talks. As well as conducting more air strikes of its own, the United States is also heavily assisting the fledgling Afghan air force.
As air strikes have increased, the U.N. report said civilian casualties from aerial attacks rose by 52 percent in the first half of the year to 353 killed and wounded and it urged forces to improve civilian protection in air operations.
Mohammad Radmanish, a spokesman for the ministry of defence, confirmed that a number of civilians had been killed but said the incident was still being investigated. He said it was unclear whether the strike had been conducted by the Afghan airforce or U.S. aircraft.
"An investigation team from Kabul has been deployed to the province to investigate the incident," he said. "For the moment it is difficult to say how many civilians were killed or wounded and who conducted the air strike."
There was no immediate comment from the headquarters of the NATO-led Resolute Support mission in Kabul.
A statement from the Taliban said 28 civilians had been killed. It said most of the victims were women and children and blamed U.S. forces.
According to the United Nations, at least 1,692 civilians were killed in the conflict during the first half of the year, the highest total ever recorded in the equivalent period.
Kunduz, a key strategic target for the Taliban that briefly fell to the insurgents in 2015, has seen repeated incidents in which civilians have been killed by air strikes.
In April, dozens were killed by a strike on Dasht-i Archi district that local villagers said hit people attending a religious ceremony.
(Reporting by Sardar Razmal, Qadir Sediqi; Writing by James Mackenzie; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)