NEW DELHI: At least eight civilians, including four children, were killed in Afghanistan’s western Farah province, officials said, although it remains unclear whether they were killed by an airstrike or a roadside bomb.

Muhammad Naser Mehri, spokesperson for the provincial governor, said the civilians were killed in a roadside bomb, whereas families of the victims said that they were hit by an airstrike. The latter scenario would make the Afghan government culpable, as Afghan forces along with Nato are carrying out airstrikes meant to target militants across large parts of the conflict torn country.

"The gruesome incident took place in Bala Buluk district late Friday when the victims were fleeing their houses following a ground engagement between security forces and Taliban militants," the spokesperson told Xinhua news agency.

Salima, a thirty year old mother of four, said that two of her children were killed in an airstrike, and a third wounded. “I don’t want to be alive anymore while I don’t have my children with me,” told the Associated Press. In addition to the eight killed, over 22 people were wounded in the attack.

Dawlat Waziri, a Defense Ministry spokesperson, said that investigations are underway. "We are aware of the allegations made by the local people, right now an investigation is going on into the incident in Farah," he said.

The United Nations Assistance Mission In Afghanistan (UNAMA), that has been recording civilian casualties in the country in 2009, said in its latest report that Conflict-related violence exacted a heavy toll on Afghanistan in 2016, with an overall deterioration in civilian protection and the highest total civilian casualties recorded since 2009.

Between 1 January and 31 December, UNAMA documented 11,418 civilian casualties (3,498 deaths and 7,920 injured); marking a two per cent decrease in civilian deaths and six per cent increase in civilians injured. These figures amount to a three per cent increase in total civilian casualties compared to 2015. Since 2009, the armed conflict in Afghanistan has claimed the lives of 24,841 civilians and injured 45,347 others.

In 2016, UNAMA documented record numbers of civilian casualties from ground engagements, suicide and complex attacks and explosive remnants of war, as well as the highest number of civilian casualties caused by aerial operations since 2009. Increases in civilian deaths and injuries from these tactics drove the overall three per cent rise in civilian casualties, while civilian casualties from improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and targeted and deliberate killings decreased.

The conflict severely impacted Afghan children in 2016. UNAMA recorded 3,512 child casualties (923 deaths and 2,589 injured), a 24 per cent increase from 2015, and the highest number of child casualties recorded by UNAMA in a single year. The disproportionate rise in child casualties across Afghanistan in 2016 resulted mainly from a 66 per cent increase in civilian casualties from explosive remnants of war – most of whom were children.

Civilian casualties increased in five of Afghanistan’s eight regions in 2016. The armed conflict most affected the southern region, which recorded 2,989 civilian casualties (1,056 deaths and 1,933 injured), a 17 per cent increase compared to 2015. The central region recorded the second highest number of civilian casualties – 2,348 civilian casualties (534 deaths and 1,814 injured) – an increase of 34 per cent compared to 2015 due to suicide and complex attacks in Kabul city. The north-eastern and eastern regions experienced a decline in civilian casualties; however, both recorded significant numbers – 1,595 civilian casualties (433 deaths and 1,162 injured) in the eastern region and 1,270 civilian casualties (382 deaths and 888 injured) in the north-eastern region. UNAMA documented 1,362 civilian casualties (384 deaths and 978 injured) in the northern region,14 903 civilian casualties (340 deaths and 563 injured) in the south-eastern region, 836 civilian casualties (344 deaths and 492 injured) in the western region and 115 civilian casualties (25 deaths and 90 injured) in the central highlands region.

(Cover Photo: Representational Image)