A US drone strike intended to hit an Islamic State hideout in Afghanistan killed at least 30 civilians resting after a day's labour in the fields, officials said on Thursday.
The attack on Wednesday night also injured 40 people after accidentally targeting farmers and labourers who had just finished collecting pine nuts at mountainous Wazir Tangi in eastern Nangarhar province, according to three Afghan officials.
"The workers had lit a bonfire and were sitting together when a drone targeted them," said tribal elder Malik Rahat Gul by telephone from Wazir Tangi.
Afghanistan's defence ministry and a senior US official in Kabul confirmed the drone strike, but did not share details of civilian casualties.
"US forces conducted a drone strike against Da'esh [Isis] terrorists in Nangarhar," said spokesman for US forces in Afghanistan Col Sonny Leggett. "We are aware of allegations of the death of non-combatants and are working with local officials to determine the facts."
About 14,000 US troops are in Afghanistan, training and advising Afghan security forces and conducting counter-insurgency operations against Isis and the Taliban.
Haidar Khan, who owns the pine nut fields, said about 150 workers were there for harvesting, with some still missing as well as the confirmed dead and injured.
A survivor of the drone strike said about 200 labourers were sleeping in five tents pitched near the farm when the attack happened.
"Some of us managed to escape, some were injured but many were killed," said Juma Gul, a resident of northeastern Kunar province who had travelled along with labourers to harvest and shell pine nuts this week.
‘Such mistakes cannot be justified’
Angered by the attack, some residents of Nangarhar province demanded an apology and monetary compensation from the US government.
"Such mistakes cannot be justified. American forces must realise [they] will never win the war by killing innocent civilians," said Javed Mansur, a resident of Jalalabad city.
Scores of local men joined a protest against the attack on Thursday morning as they helped carry the victims’ bodies to Jalalabad city and then to the burial site.
Spokesman for the provincial governor Attaullah Khogyania said the aerial attack was meant to target Isis militants who often use farmlands for training and recruitment purposes, but had hit innocent civilians.
In a separate incident, at least 20 people died in a suicide truck-bomb attack on Thursday carried out by the Taliban in the southern province of Zabul.
Hundreds of civilians have been killed in fighting across Afghanistan after the collapse of US-Taliban peace talks this month. – Reuters