Afghan army raid kills 35 civilians at a wedding party

Officials said the target was a militant hideout nearby used by the Taliban to train suicide bombers

epa07835404 Afghan security officials patrol in Nad-e-Ali district of Helmand, Afghanistan, 11 September 2019. The Taliban on 10 September sought clarification from the United States after Washington called off peace negotiations with the Afghan insurgent group after it admitted killing a US soldier in a Kabul attack last week. The two sides had reached a draft agreement in principle after more than a year of negotiations on the withdrawal of US troops from the war-torn country.  EPA/WATAN YAR
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At least 35 civilians attending a wedding party were killed and 13 people wounded by explosions and gunfire during a raid by Afghan government forces on a nearby militant hideout, two officials in southern Helmand province said on Monday.

The target of the attack was a house being used by the Taliban to train suicide bombers, officials said, but the bride’s home next door was caught up in Sunday night's attack by Afghan special forces.

A senior Afghan Defence Ministry official said the raid in Musa Qala, Helmand province was against "a foreign terrorist group actively engaged in organising terrorist attacks”.

"During the operation, a large warehouse of the terrorists' supplies and equipment was also demolished," the official said.

A second Afghan Defence Ministry official said a foreign militant detonated a suicide vest that killed him and others around him, including a woman.

"The compound was being used to train men and women who were willing to become suicide bombers, we raided it. We are aware that civilians were injured in the attack," he said.

Attaullah Afghan, a member of the Helmand provincial council, said 35 people attending the wedding party close to the attack site were killed and 13 injured.

A second provincial council member, Abdul Majid Akhundzadah, said the government had been warned in advance that a wedding was taking place.

"We told the Taliban, 'don't settle foreign militants near our houses,' we told the Afghan government, 'don't target us if militants live in the middle of our houses, that is not our wish or our fault. We can't stop anyone. Don't kill us,'" a local resident told CBS news.

The Defence Ministry said the Taliban hideout was also used by foreign nationals working for the group.

"As a result of a joint operation in Musa Qala district of Helmand, 22 Taliban members were killed and 14 others arrested," the ministry said in a statement, adding that five Pakistanis and one Bangladeshi national were among those arrested.

Bombing, air strikes and ground clashes between the US-backed Afghan forces and extremist groups have intensified following the collapse of the US-Taliban talks and ahead of the presidential polls next week.

The US is facing mounting scrutiny of its operations in Afghanistan after a spate of civilian deaths during raids on extremist positions. Last Thursday a drone strike on a fruit field in Nangarhar province allegedly killed 30 people, mostly civilians. Jawaid Zaman, Kabul’s presidential adviser on tribal affairs said authorities had been told local people would be collecting dried fruit in the area.

"The strike was supposed to target Daesh (ISIS) fighters, but it mistakenly hit the civilians," Nangarhar police spokesman Mubariz Attal told AFP.