Kabul, Jun 29 (efe-epa).- Around 23 civilians were killed and more than 15 others wounded on Monday in multiple explosions at a cattle market in the southwestern Helmand province in Afghanistan, according to officials.
The incident occurred around 9.30 am local time in Sangin district in Helmand, one of the most unstable provinces in the country.
“Unfortunately, 23 civilians martyred and more than 15 injured today morning in a bazaar of Sangin district,” the Ministry of Defense said in a statement, in which it blamed the Taliban for the incident.
The Helmand governor’s office said in a statement that at first, “four mortars were fired at the cattle bazaar, and then explosives that were placed in a nearby vehicle also exploded.”
Moreover, it added that “a number of nearby civilian houses” were destroyed and a large number of livestock also perished.
On the other hand, the Taliban alleged that the security forces were behind the mortars attack.
“Tens of our civilian countrymen, including children, were martyred and injured,” the spokesperson of the insurgent group, Qari Yusuf Ahmadi, tweeted.
However, the defense ministry refuted the claims as “completely baseless,” given that the armed forces “did not conduct any form of military activities in the area and fired no mortar” on Monday morning.
Helmand is one of the most insecure provinces in the country and nine out of its 14 districts are under Taliban control. The region has been witness to sporadic clashes in recent months.
The incident comes during a period when Afghanistan is going through a process to bring an end to the nearly two decades of war in the country, following an agreement signed between the Taliban and the United States.
As per the US-Taliban agreement signed on Feb.29 in the Qatari capital of Doha, Washington would pull troops out of Afghanistan by mid-2021 in exchange for security guarantees from the Taliban.
However, the commencement of the intra-Afghan talks, along the lines of the agreement, has been delayed by disagreements between the insurgents and the government at Kabul regarding a prisoner swap process, a precondition for starting the talks.
Despite the lack of agreement, the government has so far released around 3,000 Taliban prisoners in exchange for around 500 of its prisoners being freed from Taliban jails, while negotiations continue. EFE-EPA