KANDAHAR, Afghanistan – At least 20 civilians were killed and dozens more injured when mortar shells hit a crowded livestock market in southern Afghanistan on Monday, with government and Taliban accusing each other.
Inhabitant the Sangin DistrictIn the Helmand province, where the cattle market takes place in an area controlled by the Taliban, three mortar shells were fired when almost 500 people and hundreds of animals lived in the bazaar. Several local elders said the mortars were fired by the Afghan Army’s Second Brigade, which has a base in the southwest of the district.
“Human and animal meat was mixed,” said Saifullah Khan, who was on the market. “25 people were killed on the spot, and 10 others died later from their wounds.”
Mr Khan said that although the Taliban fired rockets at the military base the day before, Monday morning was calm and there had been no fighting before the bazaar started.
The video from the small district clinic showed a large crowd of people carrying victims with blood on their floors. Children could hear crying. Corpses of dead animals still seemed to be lying around between hats and shoes in the bazaar.
Emergency, a medical charity operating a first aid post in Sangin, said part of their facility was also damaged by the mortar shell, but they continued to treat the wounded.
“We have admitted 30 patients to our Sangin First Aid station, seven of whom were unfortunately already dead upon arrival,” said Marco Puntin, program coordinator at the charity.
The Afghan government denied that its armed forces were behind the attack. The provincial governor’s office in Helmand, which put the death toll at 23, said the Taliban had attempted to use mortars to attack military bases, but the projectiles had landed on civilians.
“Our military did not fire artillery,” said Omar Zwak, a spokesman for the governor.
A statement by President Ashraf Ghani’s office condemning the strike called him a “terrorist attack.” His spokesman, Sediq Sediqqi, said it was the work of the Taliban.
Even as Violence is increasing across AfghanistanThere is often little accountability for civilian death. Many attacks are not claimed, while in other bloody incidents both sides accuse the other and proceed to more violence.
Investigations into reports of air strikes or litter mortars rarely lead to public responses. Assassinations and targeted killings have increasingly narrowed the space for activists and human rights defenders trying to follow up civil damage cases.
A Taliban spokesman, Zabiullah Mujahid, blamed the Afghan forces on Monday for the attack, saying the Afghan government “threw dust into people’s eyes” by calling the mortar shell a car bomb so that it could attribute the violence to the Taliban could.
A US agreement with the Taliban in February initiated the withdrawal of American troops in Afghanistan. About a third of the 12,000 soldiers have already left, but it has done little to alleviate the bloodshed.
Helmand province saw some of the worst fighting in the nearly two-decade war that caught civilians between Taliban attacks and clearance operations by Afghan and coalition forces. They were the victims of roadside bombs launched by insurgents and air strikes by Afghan and American forces. The Taliban control at least five districts in the province and cover large stretches in the other eight.
A civilian was hit by a bomb on the Taliban roadside in the Washir district in Helmand on Sunday, killing six people, including a woman and three children.
Taimoor Shah reported from Kandahar and Fahim Abed from Kabul, Afghanistan. Mujib Mashal reported from Kabul.