Dozens die in market blasts in southern Afghanistan
At least 23 civilians were killed on Monday when a series of explosions went off in a cattle market in Afghanistan’s southern province of Helmand, in what was one of the bloodiest incidents against civilians in recent months.
Afghan security forces and the Taliban blamed each other for the attack in Sangin district, an area under the insurgents’ control. While the Taliban accused government troops of firing mortars that killed civilians, the army blamed the Taliban for blowing up explosives at the site. Some residents confirmed the Taliban account, alleging the attack was carried out by the army.
Videos circulating on social media showed that the casualties included children.
A bearded man pointing toward two bodies said they were his brother and nephew, and neither of them were Taliban. He was heard saying that the attack was conducted by government forces. Italian-run hospital Emergency reported receiving 19 bodies, three of them children who succumbed to their injuries while being rushed to the clinic.
In a statement issued by his office, President Ashraf Ghani condemned the attack and called on the Taliban to give up violence and begin negotiations.
Peace talks between the insurgents and the government were originally set for early March, but did not take place as Kabul initially refused to accept the Taliban’s condition of releasing the group’s imprisoned fighters.
Both sides have freed hundreds of each other’s prisoners in recent months amid hopes of starting the peace process in June. Officials now expect the negotiations will be held sometime in July, possibly in Qatar.
The talks should come amid a phased withdrawal of US-led troops from Afghanistan. In accordance with an agreement the Taliban signed with the US in late February, all foreign soldiers should leave the country by next spring.
Following the US deal, the Taliban halted attacks on foreign troops but stepped up attacks on government forces.
Hundreds of Taliban and Afghan troops have died, as civilians continue to suffer from the ongoing war.
Afghans carry the body of a man who was killed during a deadly attack, in the southern Helmand province, Monday.