ISLAMABAD, PAKISTAN —
Witnesses and relatives in southern Afghanistan say a pre-dawn bomb blast killed at least 10 civilians, mostly children and women, in an area where Afghan national security forces were conducting anti-Taliban operations.
It was not immediately clear whether an airstrike by government forces or an insurgent armed retaliation caused the deadly explosion Sunday in Baba Ji, a volatile portion of Lashkargah, the capital of the embattled Helmand province.
The blast destroyed a house, causing the civilian deaths, residents said.
A regional military spokesman, General Wali Mohammad Ahmadzai, confirmed that a search operation had been underway in the area to clear it of Taliban insurgents.
“We are aware of the reported civilian casualties and a special commission has been tasked to investigate them,” he told VOA, without giving further details.
Opium poppy-growing Helmand is Afghanistan’s largest province and is mostly under the control or influence of the Taliban. The insurgents also are entrenched in areas around Lashkargah and have made several attempts in recent months to overrun the city.
Provincial Governor Hayatullah Hayat told VOA last week that Afghan forces have launched clearing operations to push back insurgents from areas in and around Lashkargah, as well as other districts.
“We are undertaking these operations to strictly avoid civilian casualties and destruction of houses and shops,” Hayat asserted.
The offensive went into action shortly after the Taliban captured the administrative center of the key district of Sangin late last month.
The United Nations documented a record number of Afghan civilian casualties in 2016 and repeatedly has called on warring sides to avoid harm to non-combatants.