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US air strike leaves 18 dead in Helmand

KABUL: A US air strike in southeastern Afghanistan killed an unspecified number of civilians on Tuesday night. The strike occurred during a firefight between Afghan special forces working with US advisers and Taliban in restive Helmand province.

Afghan officials offered varying unconfirmed numbers over how many civilians might have been killed or wounded by the strike, with one official saying the toll was at least 18 dead.

“Last night, following ground fighting in Garmsir district, foreign forces bombed some Taliban positions killing many of them. Unfortunately, we also have reports of some civilian casualties as result of the air strikes,” said Omar Zhwak, the Helmand governor’s spokesman.

According to NATO, air support was requested by security forces on the ground as the militants deployed heavy weapons and retreated into a nearby compound.

“After the strike, there were secondary explosions, we assess from explosives inside the compound,” a statement said.

“The ground force was unaware of any civilians in or around the compound; they only knew that the Taliban was using the building as a fighting position,” the statement continued.

“The Taliban continue to use civilians, especially children, as a protective measure,” it added.

Ordinary Afghans have borne the brunt of the 17-year war, which is on track to be deadlier than Syria this year.

Civilians continue to face “extreme levels of harm”, a recent UN report said, with 8,050 people killed or wounded in the January to September period this year.

Violence has intensified in the past year as US and Afghan forces step up ground and air offensives against Taliban and IS.

The Taliban have also increased attacks on Afghan forces even as the United States ratchets up efforts to engage the militants in peace talks.

Washington is trying to find a way out of the conflict more than 17 years since it began.

US envoy Zalmay Khalil­zad is spearheading efforts to strike a peace deal with the Taliban before Afghanistan’s presidential election, scheduled for April.

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