Dozens of civilian mainly children have been killed in an airstrike on a madrassa (religious school) in the Dasht-e-Archi district of the Kunduz province of Afghanistan.

Children had gathered at the madrassa to be given a certificate on completion of memorization of the Qur’an. Most children’s parents were present at the ceremony.

The district officials who wanted to remain anonymous said he is not authorized to speak to the media but claimed at least 70 people have killed in the airstrike including top Taliban commanders.

Talking to media, Ministry of Defense spokesman, Mohammad Radmanish, said that the air raid was aimed at “top Taliban commanders”.

“The air strike killed more than 30 Taliban fighters, including nine commanders,” he said. “The Taliban training centre was bombed and no civilians were present.”

The Taliban released a statement claiming no commander or member of the Taliban was present at the ceremony.

A witness said the gathering was full of civilians especially children.

Mohammed Abdul Haq, who witnessed the attack, said “There were children as young as 11 or 12 years old in the ceremony who were to be presented with awards and gifts for the completion of their religious courses,”

“Mothers are wailing and crying outside the hospitals for the death of their children and everyone is crying with them,” he added.

Other witnesses of the airstrike believes more than 100 innocent children have been killed.

Haji Ghulam, a witness, said “I was working in my farm when I heard helicopters and jets bombing the madrassa (religious school) where the Taliban were gathered alongside new Qaris (the ones who memorise the 30 chapters of the Quran) to recognise them with awards,”.

“The Taliban are active in the area, but the ceremony was attended mostly by children and young boys.”

Haji added when he went to the madrassa after the airstrike all he could see was blood and dead bodies of young kids.

“It was a disaster. Blood everywhere,” he said, adding that the “many” people were killed.

In a statement released to the media The Taliban said the airstrike has killed around 150 civilians including religious scholars and children, and added that no member or commander of the Taliban was present at the ceremony.

United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan said on Twitter that a human rights team on the ground will investigate the incident.

“UNAMA actively looking in to disturbing reports of serious harm to civilians yesterday from air strike at #DashtiArchi, #Kunduz. Human Rights team on ground establishing facts. All parties reminded of obligations to protect civilians from impact of armed conflict,” the tweet said.

Afghanistan’s air force, backed by US-led NATO coalition advisers, has accelerated aerial raids in the country in recent months to push the Taliban to the negotiating table, however, civilians have reportedly been killed in several incidents.

Earlier this month, a unit of the Afghan security and intelligence forces carried out a deadly raid in two villages in the Chaparhar district of Nangarhar province, that resulted in the death of seven farmer including two teenagers.

Afghan officials maintained that the people killed in the attack were Taliban fighters.

On January 31, Afghan special forces backed by US air raids launched an offensive against Taliban fighters in the Maiwand district in Kandahar, according to a Human Rights Watch report, released in February.

At least 20 civilians were killed in the operation, the report said.