KABUL – At least 40 members of a wedding party, including women and children, were killed and another 13 wounded in an airstrike in southern Afghanistan Sunday night, according to a provincial council member from Helmand province.
Haji Abdul Majed Akhund told VOA that the residents of Musa Qala district, the site of the attack, had informed provincial authorities of the wedding ceremony in advance.
“We brought 13 members of our family to the Emergency hospital in Lashkargah city last night,” a man named Abdullah told VOA.
Helmand health officials confirmed that 13 civilians were shifted from the site of the attack to provincial capital Lashkargah. Abdul Ahad Hazem, the Helmand provincial health director, told VOA that one of them, a woman had since succumbed to her wounds.
Omar Zawak a spokesman for the Helmand provincial governor, confirmed the strike but said reports of civilian casualties were not confirmed and the government was investigating. He added that the strike, which was accompanied by a night raid on militants operating in the area, had killed 13 Taliban.
Meanwhile, the Afghan Defense Ministry said at least 22 Taliban were killed, including 5 Pakistanis and one Bangladeshi, and 14 militants were arrested, in an Afghan forces’ operation in Musa Qala.
A separate statement from the office of the governor of neighboring Kandahar province said the target was al-Qaida.
“Last night, Afghan special forces conducted an air and ground operation in Takht Put village in Musa Qala district of Helmand province, killing five key members of the al-Qaida network and arresting three key female members,” the statement read, adding that all these members were from Karachi, Pakistan.
The accusation of civilian casualties comes days after a United States drone strike in Nangarhar province in eastern Afghanistan killed at least 30 civilians, according to local officials. The civilians, mostly laborers had gathered to harvest pine nuts and had informed provincial authorities of their plans ahead of time.
Civilians continue to bear the brunt of the conflict in Afghanistan, with the United Nations recording record high numbers in the last few years. A recent BBC investigation revealed that “an average of 74 men, women and children were killed every day in Afghanistan throughout the month of August.”