A US-backed raid by the Afghanistan security forces on an Islamist militants’ hideout in the Helmand province turned into a bloodbath when a nearby wedding party was hit as well and dozens of civilians were killed and injured.
The raid on the hideout, located in the central Afghan town of Musa Qala, occurred late on Sunday. The targeted facility has somehow been used by both the Taliban and Al Qaeda to train suicide bombers, according to local officials.
The operation, however, turned into carnage as a wedding party was being held next door with a large group of civilians in attendance.
“We were going to the bride’s house for the henna ceremony, some of us were outside the home and some inside, [when] suddenly the battle began…We told the security forces that we were not members of the Taliban,” Mohammad Salim, a survivor of the massacre and a relative of the victims, told Reuters.
The warning apparently did no good to the civilians, as at least 40 people were killed – including 12 children – while 13 others were injured during the gun battle. Both Afghan and US military officials acknowledged the civilian casualties, and shifted the blame for massacre on the militants.
Colonel Sonny Leggett, a spokesman for US forces stationed in the country, said they participated in the raid, conducting “precision strikes against barricaded terrorists firing on Afghan and US forces.” The majority of the killed civilians were struck by the militants’ small arms fire and explosions of their munition cashes and suicide belts, he claimed.
Apart from the civilians, 22 Taliban fighters were killed and 14, including six foreign nationals, were captured, according to the governor’s office of the Helmand province. Four senior Taliban commanders and the Taliban shadow governor of Musa Qala are said to be among those killed. It remains unclear if the government forces sustained any casualties during the raid.
As the US-Taliban peace talks collapsed two weeks ago, violence in the war-torn country is on the rise and it has already taken a heavy toll on civilians. The wedding party incident came a few days after at least 32 pine nut harvesters were killed and 40 injured during a US drone strike. The bombing run targeted Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS) militants, who seemingly happened to “hide” among the farmers.
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