Afghan Civilians Killed in Blast After Commando Raid

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KABUL, Afghanistan -- An explosion in a mountain village in eastern Afghanistan on Sunday killed at least seven civilians after a joint American-Afghan military raid killed four Taliban fighters there, Afghan officials said. But villagers said 16 civilians had been killed.

A spokesman for the international coalition's forces said that an investigation was under way and that the explosion occurred after the Taliban fighters were killed. It was unclear what caused the explosion, but the villagers blamed the international forces.

The raid took place in the Tangi Valley, a remote area of Wardak Province, a Taliban-held region that has been dangerous for Americans. In 2011 it was the site of an insurgent attack that brought down a Chinook helicopter, killing all 30 Americans on board, including 22 Navy Seals. It was the largest single loss of American troops in the 11-year war. Eight Afghans on the helicopter also died.

In recent months, insurgent attacks have taken a toll on Afghan forces in the area. Thirty Afghan National Army soldiers have been killed in ambushes and explosions in the last 11 months, and another 70 have been wounded, said Maj. Saifuddin Zaffari, the Afghan Army's operational commander for the Fourth Brigade's 3rd Battalion, which has responsibility for the Tangi region.

In Sunday's raid, which occurred before dawn, a team of American and Afghan Special Operations forces detained a Taliban leader and then came under fire from Taliban gunmen who were hiding in a mosque. At least some of the Taliban were wearing suicide vests, which exploded during the fight, destroying the mosque, Afghan officials said.  

"It was a joint ground operation in Hassan Khail village of Seyda Bad that killed four armed Taliban inside the mosque," Major Zaffari said. "Some civilians were trying to collect the bodies or to get their weapons and other ammunition when suddenly a huge explosion took place and resulted in civilian casualties, but we don't know the exact numbers."

A spokesman for the international forces, Lt. Col. Hagen Messer, said that early reports from villagers that there had been an airstrike were incorrect and that it was a ground operation that killed the Taliban.

"We also found a weapons and explosives cache and destroyed it before withdrawing," Colonel Messer said. He added, "We are aware of reports that there may have been civilians killed."

"If there were civilians killed," he said, "it was after the operation."

There were several theories about the cause of the explosion that killed the civilians. Shaheedullah Shaheed, a spokesman for the governor of Wardak Province, said that some explosives might have remained in the mosque after the raid and that they could have detonated when the civilians rushed in. Major Zaffari said the explosion might have occurred in a house next to the mosque.

An elder in the area, Juma Khan, who has Taliban ties and was in the village on Sunday morning, said that 16 villagers were killed and that their bodies were being prepared for burial. Of those, eight were older women and two were boys from the same family.

Zabiullah Mujahid, the Taliban spokesman for the north and east of Afghanistan, said that two Taliban had been killed in the raid.  

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This article originally appeared in The New York Times.


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