Roadside bomb kills 19, at least 14 from one family, in Afghanistan's Marjah district

A roadside bomb has killed at least 19 Afghan civilians, including 14 from one family, in the Marjah district of the southern province of Helmand.

Police official Haji Janan Aqa said the victims included nine children and eight women, with five other people wounded.

He said the villagers had recently fled fighting in Marjah and were apparently trying to return home.

"They wanted to return to their village but their van hit a roadside bomb planted by the Taliban," he said.

A witness said all of the dead children he saw at the scene were under the age of five.

The incident was the first major attack since the start of the holy Muslim fasting month of Ramadan.

No-one claimed responsibility, but the Taliban typically deny targeting civilians although their tactic of planting roadside bombs has been harshly criticised by the United Nations.

Northern offensive

In northern Kunduz province, officials said that Taliban forces advancing on the provincial capital Kunduz city had captured the outlying district of Chardara.

If the city centre was to fall, it would be a major embarrassment to Afghan forces fighting this year mostly without US support.

Heavy fighting was ongoing just three kilometres from the governor's compound, said deputy governor of the province Hamdullah Danishi.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said in a statement that their fighters took control of Chardara district centre and 12 police check posts.

He also said 24 police and army soldiers were killed, 19 wounded and 25 captured. Mujahid said two of their fighters were killed and four wounded.

Deputy governor Danishi, however, said government forces evacuated Chardara without any casualties.

Insurgents launched a countrywide offensive in late April, stepping up attacks on government and foreign targets in what is expected to be the bloodiest fighting season in a decade.

The surge in attacks has also taken a heavy toll on civilians, with almost 1,000 killed during the first four months of this year — a sharp jump from the same period last year — the UN reported.




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