KABUL, Afghanistan: At least 30 civilians were killed along with 16 Taliban fighters as Afghan government forces battled insurgents in southern Helmand province overnight, provincial officials said Wednesday.
According to Attahullah Afghan, who heads the provincial council in Helmand, most of the casualties — which included men, women and children — incurred in an airstrike that hit a house on Tuesday night during military operations in the province, a Taliban heartland.
A child that was wounded in the attack was brought to a hospital in the provincial capital of Lashkar Gah, he said.
A statement from governor’s office in Helmand confirmed that 16 Taliban insurgents were killed and said that an investigation was underway to determine the number of civilian casualties.
It said the militants had stockpiled ammunition in the area of the operation, which could have caused civilian casualties. There was also a car packed with explosives that ignited during the strike, the statement added.
Abdul Wadod Popul, a lawmaker from Helmand, also confirmed the civilian casualties. “The area is under Taliban’s control and is very difficult to get a precise number of casualties,” he said in Kabul.
Qari Yusouf Ahmadi, a Taliban spokesman, claimed in a statement sent to the media that all the victims were civilians.
Telephone lines with Helmand were cut on Wednesday and it was not immediately possible to reach local officials and civilians there. Also, it was not clear if the operation was being conducted exclusively by Afghan forces or whether NATO forces were there to support the Afghans.
The Taliban carry out near-daily attacks on Afghan forces. The U.S. and NATO troops formally concluded their combat mission in Afghanistan in 2014, but still provide close support to Afghan forces and carry out counterterrorism operations. Some 15,000 American forces are currently serving in Afghanistan.
The Helmand fighting came as Afghan President Ashraf Ghani was in Geneva, attending a two-day U.N.-backed conference that ends Wednesday and that is expected focusing on development, peace and security in the war-battered country.
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