US airstrike 'kills 30 civilians, 16 Taliban' in Afghanistan's Helmand province

US airstrike 'kills 30 civilians, 16 Taliban' in Afghanistan's Helmand province
Local officials and residents have said that at least 30 civilians were killed when a US airstrike took place in Afghanistan's restive Helmand province.
2 min read
29 November, 2018
The US airstrike occurred after a gunfight between Afghan forces and Taliban militants [Getty]

Afghan officials on Wednesday said at least 30 civilians were killed along with 16 Taliban fighters during an overnight battle between Afghan government forces and insurgents in southern Helmand province.

A local official, Attahullah Afghan, said most of the civilian casualties - which included men, women and children - came when an airstrike struck a house in the central Helmand River valley, a Taliban heartland. US officials said it happened in Helmand's Garmsir district.

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.

A US military spokesman in Kabul said the airstrike was carried out by American aircraft called in to back Afghan "special security forces" after they came under heavy Taliban fire.

Maj. Bariki Mallya, the spokesman, told the Associated Press that the airstrike was conducted in self-defense after Taliban fighters armed with rocket-propelled grenades and heavy machine guns retreated into a compound and continued firing on Afghan government forces and their American advisers.

"In self-defense, the ground force called an airstrike," Mallya said. "After the strike, there were secondary explosions, we assess from explosives inside the compound. At the time of the strike, the ground force was unaware of any civilians in or around the compound; they only knew that the Taliban were using the building as a fighting position."

Mallya declined to say what the US knew about civilian casualties or whether the incident was under US investigation. In a prepared statement, he said the US investigates every "credible allegation of error and reviews every mission to learn, adapt and improve".

A statement from the 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.

US 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 fighting came as Afghan President Ashraf Ghani was in Geneva, attending a two-day UN-backed conference that ends Wednesday and that is focused on development, security and peace efforts in the war-battered country.