ISLAMABAD - Angry residents Sunday rallied in a northern province of Afghanistan to protest the killing of at least seven civilians in an Afghan air force airstrike.
Protesters, carrying bodies of the victims, said three women and three children belonging to the same family were among those killed in the deadly overnight incident in Balkh.
The province, which borders Uzbekistan, was a relatively peaceful province until a few years ago. Taliban insurgents have lately established pockets of resistance there and routinely attack government security forces.
A regional military spokesman, Hanif Rezai, confirmed to VOA that the Afghan air force conducted five strikes in several villages in the area against the Taliban Saturday.
Rezai denied the operation caused any civilian casualties, claiming it killed at least 16 members of the insurgent group instead.
The 18-year Afghan war continues to inflict record levels of civilian casualties.
The United Nations recently announced that the war had killed or injured more than 100,000 civilians In the last 10 years alone. Nearly 34,000 Afghans have been killed during that period, most of them children.
The latest civilian casualties come as American and Taliban representatives have been engaged during the past few weeks in closed-door meetings in Qatar, trying to resume their stalled peace talks to conclude a deal to end the war in Afghanistan.
Washington is encouraging the Taliban to demonstrate a "significant and lasting" reduction in battlefield attacks before the deal is signed and maintain the low level of hostilities until Taliban-Afghan negotiations begin to permanently end years of bloodshed in the country.
So far no progress has been reported because the insurgent group is refusing to go beyond its proposed scaling back of operations, reportedly for up to 10 days, to sign the U.S.-Taliban agreement.
Taliban officials maintain a nationwide cease fire would be on the agenda when intra-Afghan talks start.