The Afghan military has been accused by an international watchdog group of actively engaging in human rights violations and in war crimes by targeting fleeing civilians during combined combat operations with U.S. forces.

The allegations were included in a report released Wednesday by Human Rights Watch, which says Afghan troops opened fire on fleeing civilians during missions in Maiwand and Panjwai districts of the Taliban-held Kandahar province. In one instance, Afghan forces — backed by U.S. airpower — reportedly killed 20 civilians in clearing operations in the Band-e Timor area of Kandahar.

“The alleged deaths of at least twenty civilians in Band-e Timor demands a prompt and impartial investigation,” said Patricia Gossman, a senior Afghanistan researcher at Human Rights Watch.

“Summarily executing people in custody, whether they are fighters or civilians, is a war crime. Only a full investigation can uncover all who may be responsible,” she added in a statement issued by the group.

Coalition spokesman Capt. Tom Gresback confirmed that U.S. forces did partner with their Afghan counterparts during the operations in Band-e-Timor, but no reports of civilian casualties were passed along to command officials in Kabul.

American and NATO commanders intend to “focus on offensive operations and … look for a major effort to gain the initiative very quickly as we enter into the fighting season,” U.S. Central Command chief Gen. Joseph Votel said in an interview with The Associated Press last month.

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Afghan security forces, with ramped up assistance from the U.S. and NATO-led coalition, must “keep the pressure on all the time and work to gain the upper hand as quickly as we can. So that as we get into this next fighting season, we can build on the initiative,” Gen. Votel said.

U.S. officials stated that the only people killed in the operation were Taliban fighters and that others were detained along with seven kilos of opium, which is the way the Taliban is financing their operations by partaking in the drug trade.

Nevertheless, the allegations will bear close scrutiny and it will be up to the Afghan courts to decide whether any violations took place.

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Photo courtesy: US Central Command