Afghan officials from the Ministry of Defense and the presidency repeatedly either declined to comment on Unama’s findings, or did not respond to inquiries. They have claimed the airstrike was on a Taliban planning session that included several high-ranking Taliban officials.
“I don’t want to comment on figures of civilian casualties provided by Unama,” said Shah Hussain Murtazawi, President Ashraf Ghani’s deputy spokesman. “Our investigation also shows that there were some civilian casualties, but the main target was the Taliban gathering.”
Mr. Murtazawi said he could not provide further detail, however, because the government’s own report had yet to be formally presented to the president’s National Security Council. He said that the Kunduz attack had prompted the government “to take more measures to prevent civilian casualties in airstrikes,” but he did not specify what those measures were.
Ms. Gossman, of Human Rights Watch, said, “The government seems wary of releasing information about large numbers of civilian casualties, since to do so means confronting those in the security forces responsible.”
The United Nations in Afghanistan has also criticized the insurgents, blaming them for the majority of civilian casualties in the war, particularly from suicide bombings and improvised explosive devices that often deliberately target civilians. The latest United Nations report said 67 percent of civilian casualties could be attributed to the insurgents.
Until recent months, most aerial attacks in Afghanistan were carried out by American-led coalition forces, and many still are, though with increased standards of caution to avoid civilian casualties, according to American officials. At least four American airstrikes in Kunduz in recent years resulted in claims of civilian casualties.
In one hotly disputed attack just outside Kunduz city last November, the American military launched airstrikes after two of its soldiers had been killed, apparently killing civilians who had been ordered by the Taliban to recover the dead and wounded. The United States at first denied killing any civilians, but reversed its position after an investigation and said 33 civilians had died in the incident.
The American commander, Gen. John W. Nicholson Jr., apologized for the loss of life.