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An Afghan boy is treated at a hospital following an air strike in the Dashti Archi district of Kunduz Province in April.

The UN mission in Afghanistan has expressed “strong concern” over the rising numbers of civilian casualties caused by aerial operations, as two separate air strikes over the weekend appear to have killed a total of 21 civilians.

Citing preliminary findings, the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) on September 26 said that 12 women and children from the same family were killed when an "aerial ordnance" destroyed their house in Maidan Wardak Province, west of Kabul.

The incident took place late on September 23 in the village of Mullah Hafez, Jaghato district, during operations conducted by pro-government forces in the area, a statement said.

Provincial council member Ahmad Jahfari told the AFP news agency that the strike targeted Taliban militants.

In a separate statement issued on September 25, UNAMA said it had received "multiple, credible allegations" that a September 22 air strike hit the house of a teacher in Kapisa Province, north of the capital, killing nine members of the same family.

Those killed included three women and four children, it said. Six other people were wounded.

UNAMA said it was unclear whether the two air strikes were carried out by Afghan or NATO forces.

Afghan Defense Ministry spokesman Mohammad Radmanish confirmed civilian casualties in Kapisa during a joint operation by Afghan and U.S. forces that involved air support and said an investigation was under way.

The U.S. military carried out an air strike in support of Afghan ground troops in Kapisa but killed "only militants," said David Butler, a spokesman for U.S. forces in Afghanistan.

Afghan security forces have struggled to counter attacks from the Taliban and other militant groups since the withdrawal of most NATO combat troops in 2014.

UNAMA said it was currently reviewing reports of civilian casualties from "a number of alleged air strikes in other parts of the country."

It also reiterated its call on all parties to the conflict to “take additional measures to prevent harm to the civilian population.”

About 7 percent of all civilian casualties in the Afghan conflict in the first half of 2018 were attributed to air operations, the UNAMA statement said.

The mission said it recorded a 52 percent increase in civilian casualties –149 deaths and 204 injured – from aerial attacks compared to the same period in 2017.

Dawn journalist Cyril Almeida

Pakistani human rights groups and unions for media workers have denounced a court order for the arrest of a correspondent at Dawn English-language newspaper following an interview critical of the country’s powerful military.

#IStandWithCyril was trending on Twitter on September 25 with colleagues and politicians criticizing a decision by the Lahore High Court in Punjab Province the previous day to issue an arrest warrant for Cyril Almeida.

The court also ordered authorities to bring the journalist before judges on October 8 at the next hearing of a case seeking action against former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.

Sharif faces treason charges for allegedly trying to defame Pakistan’s state institutions in the interview published in May during which he alleged the army was backing militants who carried out the deadly attacks in the Indian city of Mumbai in 2008.

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) said it was “greatly perturbed” by the issuance of the arrest warrants against Almeida, who it described as a “widely read and highly respected journalist.”

Almeida is being “hounded for nothing more than doing his job -- speaking on the record to a political figure and reporting the facts," a statement said.

Placing the journalist on Pakistan’s list of individuals who cannot fly out of the country and issuing a nonbailable warrant is an “excessive measure," it also said.

The Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists called the court order another attack on freedom of media and vowed to protest against the move.

"This is unacceptable...How can reporting facts be a crime?" the union’s head, Afzal Butt, said.

The distribution of Dawn, Pakistan's oldest newspaper, was disrupted across most of the country in May, days after Dawn published the interview with Sharif.

Almeida was barred from leaving the country in 2016 shortly after he wrote an article about a rift between the government and the military.

The government lifted the order weeks later.

In a new report published earlier this month, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said the climate for press freedom in Pakistan was deteriorating as the country's army “quietly, but effectively” restricts reporting through "intimidation" and other means.

The media watchdog Reporters Without Borders ranked Pakistan 139th out of the 180 countries in its 2018 Press Freedom index.

With reporting by dpa and Dawn

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"Watchdog" is a blog with a singular mission -- to monitor the latest developments concerning human rights, civil society, and press freedom. We'll pay particular attention to reports concerning countries in RFE/RL's broadcast region.

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