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11 Civilians Killed in Fighting in Southern Afghanistan

At least 11 members of a family were killed in Afghanistan’s southern province of Helmand when a bomb struck their house during clashes between U.S.-supported government forces and Taliban insurgents, local officials and relatives said Friday.

The incident occurred in the conflict-hit district of Sangin, but it was not immediately clear which side was responsible.

A Taliban spokesman blamed overnight American military airstrikes and said at least 23 civilians were killed.  

U.S. military spokesman Brigadier General Charles Cleveland confirmed it had carried out airstrikes in Sangin since Thursday.

“We are aware of the allegations of the civilian casualties and take every allegation very seriously. We will work with our Afghan partners to review all related material,” he said. Cleveland denied insurgent claims that B-52 aircraft were involved in the strikes.

The Taliban launched a major coordinated offensive on Sangin nearly two weeks ago, overrunning a number of outposts and killing dozens of Afghan forces.

Helmand key for Taliban

The U.S. military has since carried out repeated airstrikes against Taliban positions in support of government troops, but insurgents continue to occupy areas around the district center and launch counterattacks despite official claims of evicting them.

The top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, General John Nicholson, acknowledged on Thursday that intense fighting continues to rage in the area.

“Sadly, there has been some recent fighting in Sangin and we had another American Special Forces’ solider severely wounded in Sangin this morning,” Nicholson told a congressional hearing.

More than 80 percent of Helmand, a major poppy-producing province, is estimated to be controlled by the Taliban and supplies the insurgent group with approximately 60 percent of their funding.

General Nicholson said he hopes a planned deployment of about 300 U.S. Marines this spring will play a key role in helping government forces reverse insurgent gains in Helmand, the largest of all 34 Afghan provinces.

Civilians have borne the brunt of recent intensified and expanded fighting in Afghanistan.