JAN. 1, 2015
Shelling Strikes Afghan Wedding Party, Killing at Least 25 Civilians
By AZAM AHMED and TAIMOOR SHAH
KABUL, Afghanistan -- At least 25 civilians were believed to have died in southern Afghanistan after shelling amid fierce fighting struck a wedding party, Afghan officials said Thursday.
The attack occurred Wednesday night in the Sangin district of Helmand Province, the site of some of the heaviest fighting in the country in the past year. Afghan officials said they had begun an investigation of the attack, which wounded more than 50 people, mostly women and children.
"We talked to A.N.A. command, but they are denying it," Haji Mohammad Jan Rasolyaar, the deputy governor of Helmand, said, referring to the Afghan National Army. "That area is a front line, but the incident is an unfortunate one."
Civilian casualties are on the rise in Afghanistan and reached a peak in 2014, according to the United Nations. There were estimates that the death toll would exceed 10,000 in 2014; exact figures are not yet available. The rise in casualties reflects, in part, deadlier ground fighting between Afghan forces and the Taliban.
Sangin was a focus of Taliban violence in the past year, which engulfed soldiers and police officers fighting to hold on to the center of the district.
In Helmand more broadly, more than 1,300 members of the security forces were killed from June to November. In Afghanistan over all, more than 5,000 members of the security forces died last year, an increase from 2013 and a record number since the start of the war.
The increase in deaths comes as coalition forces take on a new mission in Afghanistan, stepping back entirely from a combat role  to advise and assist Afghan forces. But the change will be subtle for most members of the Afghan security forces, who for more than a year have been fighting on their own.
Officials said that a joint committee of representatives of the police and the army, as well as elders, would be sent to the area to determine what had happened. Villagers said they believed that the army was firing rockets or mortar rounds into the village of Bayanzai in Sangin, where a wedding party had gathered awaiting the return of the bride, officials said.
"We just sent a delegation comprised of A.N.A. and A.N.P. and elders to Sangin to find out the real cause of the attack and why and how the wedding party has been targeted," said Omar Zwak, the spokesman for the provincial governor, referring to the army and the Afghan National Police. "We don't know the accurate figures for casualties. There are more wounded people who have been shifted elsewhere."
Azam Ahmed reported from Kabul, and Taimoor Shah from Kandahar, Afghanistan.