A fierce battle between US-backed Afghan forces and Taliban militants in a remote corner of eastern Afghanistan left nearly 20 people dead, including 11 Afghan children killed in an airstrike and a US civilian adviser, officials said on Sunday.
Meanwhile, a roadside bomb exploded under a bus in Wardak Province, southwest of Kabul, yesterday, killing nine civilians, police said
Twenty-two people were wounded in the blast, the provincial police chief’s spokesman, Abdul Wali, said.
The Afghan Interior Ministry said the bomb had been planted by the Taliban, but a spokesman for the insurgents, Zabihullah Mujahid, said the bomb was not theirs.
“We strongly reject involvement in this attack,” he said.
The fighting on Saturday along a main infiltration route from Pakistan was indicative of a surge in hostilities as Afghanistan’s spring fighting season gets underway.
This year’s is to be closely watched because Afghan forces are having to contend with less support from the international military coalition, making it a test case of their ability to take on the country’s resilient insurgency.
The US-led coalition confirmed that it launched airstrikes in Kunar Province where the deaths occurred, stressing that they were requested by international forces. The coalition said it was assessing the incident, but could not confirm that civilians were killed.
The battle unfolded on Saturday, the same day that a total of six Americans, including three US soldiers, died in violent attacks.
The deaths capped one of the bloodiest weeks of the nearly 12-year-old war. On Wednesday, insurgents ambushed a courthouse in the relatively safe west, killing more than 46 people.
The death of Afghan civilians caught in the crossfire has been a major point of contention between international forces and the Afghan government.
Earlier this year, Afghan President Hamid Karzai banned his troops from requesting coalition airstrikes.
In the latest incident, reporters’ photographs showed villagers gathered for the funerals of the children whose bodies were swaddled in blankets. A garland of flowers adorned the head of a dead baby.
Afghan officials said the airstrike occurred after a joint US-Afghan force faced hours of heavy gunfire from militants. The joint force was conducting an operation targeting a senior Taliban leader that began at about midnight on Friday in the Shultan area of Kunar’s Shigal District, according to tribal elder Gul Pasha, who also is the chief of the local council.
Additional reporting by Reuters