Air strike in Afghanistan kills eight civilians: residents

KABUL (Reuters) – An air strike in Afghanistan on Friday killed at least eight people – all believed to be civilians, residents said – following U.S. statements that there had been a breakthrough in peace talks.

U.S. President Donald Trump said on Thursday there was a “good chance” of reaching an agreement with the Taliban on a reduction of U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said an important breakthrough had been made in peace talks with the Taliban in recent days, and Defense Secretary Mark Esper said they had negotiated a proposal for a week-long reduction in violence.

But on Friday a vehicle carrying civilians was targeted in an air strike in the eastern province of Nangarhar, according to residents, who added that among the eight killed was a child. Taliban insurgents have a strong presence in the region.

A spokesman for the provincial governor of Nangarhar confirmed the incident but did not say who the victims were.

Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid said 11 civilians were killed in the incident.

Afghan, Taliban and U.S. sources said over the last 48 hours that a deal to curb violence was on the verge of implementation. Details about when that was set to begin were not immediately clear but a Taliban official said it would be this week.

While U.S. and Taliban negotiators pressed on with meetings in Doha, Qatar, the Taliban and the Afghan government also reported fighting on the ground over the last 24 hours.

An air strike on Thursday evening killed a senior Taliban commander and eight others in northern Balkh province, the Afghan defense ministry said.

The Taliban’s Mujahid said the insurgents had killed six Afghan soldiers, including two officers, in an attack on a checkpoint in northern Kunduz province.

Reporting by Abdul Qadir Sediqi in Kabul and Ahmad Sultan in Nangarhar; Writing by Gibran Peshimam; Editing by Mark Heinrich

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