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KUNDUZ: US air strikes in the northern Afghan province of Kunduz killed at least 12 civilians, local officials said on Sunday, as battle intensified there and in southern Helmand province.

The air strikes killed 13 civilians, said Safiullah Amiri, a member of Kunduz provincial council. The casualties included children, said fellow council member Amruddin, who put the death toll at 12.

The civilian deaths occurred as Afghan and Taliban forces claimed to inflict heavy losses on each other in Kunduz and Helmand, two Taliban strongholds.

Sgt Debra Richardson, spokeswoman for the Nato-led Resolute Support mission in Afghanistan, said it was aware of the civilian casualty reports, adding that the mission reviewed all credible allegations.

Resolute Support, comprising troops from 39 countries, trains, advises and assists Afghan security forces.

Richardson said the Afghan and US forces fought the Taliban for approximately 30 hours from Friday to Saturday near Kunduz city, during which Taliban manoeuvred in and out of civilian homes.

After killing 94 Taliban, some US and Afghan soldiers drove vehicles to a security checkpoint, where she said they were fired upon at close range. This was followed by Taliban fighters on either side of the checkpoint shooting at them.

An air strike was then conducted on a Taliban compound, one of a number that day, she said.

Four Afghan soldiers died in the fighting, a senior Afghan military source said.

The Taliban said they had killed 19 members of Afghan forces and five from foreign forces in Kunduz.

Earlier on Friday, two US soldiers were killed in a combat in Kunduz. The US Department of Defence identified the soldiers as Specialist Joseph Collette, 29, and Sgt Will Lindsay, 33.

A record number of Afghan civilians were killed last year as aerial attacks and suicide bombings increased, the United Nations said in a February report.

Fighting has accelerated during a period of recurring peace talks. The latest round of negotiations concluded this month with US and Taliban officials citing progress towards ending the 17-year war.

Published in Dawn, March 25th, 2019