A US drone strike meant for ISIS killed 30 pine nut harvesters in Afghanistan

Relatives and residents pray near a coffin during a funeral ceremony of one of the victims after a drone strike, in Khogyani district of Nangarhar province, Afghanistan, September 19, 2019.

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Relatives and residents pray near a coffin during a funeral ceremony of one of the victims after a drone strike, in Khogyani district of Nangarhar province, Afghanistan, September 19, 2019.
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Parwiz / REUTERS

  • A US drone attack killed 30 civilians and injured at least 40 more in Afghanistan’s Nangarhar province Wednesday night. The attacks were meant to target an ISIS enclave.
  • “We are aware of allegations of the death of non-combatants and are working with local officials to determine the facts,” said Col. Sonny Leggett, a spokesman for the US operation in Afghanistan.
  • There have been nearly 4,000 civilian casualties in Afghanistan this year, both from extremists like the Taliban and ISIS, as well as foreign, including US, operations.
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At least 30 civilians were killed and 40 injured in an air strike conducted by the Afghan security forces, backed by US air support, in eastern Afghanistan, officials said on Thursday.

The attack, on Wednesday night was aimed at destroying a hideout used by ISIS militants, but it accidentally targeted farmers near a field, three government officials told Reuters.

Sohrab Qaderi, a provincial council member in eastern Nangarhar province, said a drone strike killed 30 workers in a pine nut field and at least 40 others were injured.

“The workers had lit a bonfire and were sitting together when a drone targeted them,” tribal elder Malik Rahat Gul told Reuters.

Attaullah Khogyani, a spokesman for the governor of Nangarhar, said nine bodies had been recovered from the attack so far. Approximately 150 workers had been harvesting in the pine nut fields, according to Haidar Khan, the owner of the fields. He said some workers were still missing.

The defense ministry in Kabul confirmed the strike but refused to share casualty details immediately.

“US forces conducted a drone strike against Da’esh (IS) terrorists in Nangarhar,” said Col. Sonny Leggett, a spokesman for Operation Freedom’s Sentinel, the US-led operation in Afghanistan. “We are aware of allegations of the death of non-combatants and are working with local officials to determine the facts.”

ISIS did not immediately comment on the attacks.

It’s unknown how many ISIS militants are currently in Afghanistan, which some experts are concerned will become a launching ground for continued terror attacks. The US military believes there are about 2,000 combatants.

“The US should be very concerned about ISIS using Afghanistan to stage attacks on the West. The conduct of external attacks is core to the very nature of the ISIS organization, and the provinces ISIS creates abroad do adopt this goal,” Jennifer Cafarella, research director at the Institute for the Study of War, previously told Insider.

A number of civilians have been killed, both by extremists like ISIS and the Taliban and by US forces, a July UN report showed. It found 3,812 civilian casualties in Afghanistan in the first half of the year alone.

(Reporting for Reuters by Ahmad Sultan in Jalalabad, Abdul Qadir Sediqi, Rupam Jain in Kabul; editing by Toby Chopra)