LASHKAR GAH, Afghanistan - Afghan army mortar rounds killed at least 20 civilians and wounded scores attending a wedding party in Afghanistan's volatile southern Helmand, provincial officials said on Thursday.
General Mahmoud, the deputy Commander of the Afghan 215 corps in the province, said artillery was fired from three directions at a village in Sangin district where the wedding was held on Wednesday.
"What we know so far is that our soldiers fired mortar rounds from three outposts but we do not know whether it was intentional," Mahmoud told Reuters.
"We have launched our investigation and will punish those who did this."
Gul Pasha Bakhtiar, deputy provincial police chief, said 26 civilians, including women and children, were killed and 41 wounded by mortar shells fired from the army side.
At least 3,188 Afghan civilians were killed in the intensifying war with Taliban insurgents in 2014, making it the deadliest year on record for non-combatants, the United Nations said in a report last week.
The numbers are a sharp reminder that the Afghan war is far from over, even as a US-led international force formally ends its combat mission, shifting to a supporting role for Afghan forces after 13 years.
Maluk Khan, the brother of the bride, said there were hundreds of guests, including many women and children, when the mortar shells started landing.
"In minutes, our happy moments turned into a bloodbath," Khan told Reuters from a hospital in Lashkar Gah where he and other relatives brought the wounded.
For the first time, ground battles between the Taliban and Afghan forces became the main cause of civilian deaths in 2014. In previous years, planted bombs killed the most civilians.
Civilian deaths over the year to the end of November were up 19 per cent over the same period last year and had already surpassed the previous high set in 2011, when 3,133 civilians were killed.
Sangin witnessed one of the deadliest battles between Afghan security forces and Taliban last year.