KABUL: At least 20 people, all believed to be members of a single family, were killed in an airstrike during a joint operation against Taliban militants in Afghanistan’s southern Helmand province, local officials said on Wednesday.
The deaths add to the growing number of casualties among noncombatants in the country’s widening war.
Ghafoor Javid, a spokesman for the defense ministry in Kabul, told Arab News that authorities were investigating to find out if the deaths were caused by Afghan or US-led troops.
The airstrike was carried out overnight in Zemarai Darab village in Helmand’s Garmsir district.
A coalition spokesman also said an investigation was underway.
“The initial information is that both Taliban and civilians were killed. We do not know how many. Phones are not working there, so it will take time to find out how many,” Karim Attal, head of the provincial council for Helmand, said.
The office for Helmand’s governor also confirmed the fatalities among civilians, but declined to say how many.
A local source put the death toll at 20 and said all the victims appeared to belong to one family.
Women and children were among the dead, he said. Images on social media showed several burnt bodies and graphic pictures of child casualties.
The deaths follow a recent escalation in fighting in Afghanistan. According to the UN, civilian casualties caused by foreign and Afghan operations have risen dramatically.
“Relentless attacks leading to large numbers of casualties are beating down Afghans’ morale,” the International Committee of the Red Cross said in a statement.
“Civilian casualties in this country have risen for eight years in a row, with violence in 2018 killing a record number of citizens — 1,692 — in the first six months alone,” it said.
Deaths among noncombatants have led to a widening rift between the populace and the Afghan government and foreign troops.
Thousands of civilians have died in operations by Afghan and foreign troops in recent years, according to estimates, with noncombatants also bearing the brunt of attacks by militants.
Earlier this week, dozens of people staged a protest in Logar province, south of Kabul, following an airstrike they said had killed civilians there.