Two Afghan soldiers held over wedding party attack

Ashraf Ghani told Afghans to support security forces. Picture: AP
Ashraf Ghani told Afghans to support security forces. Picture: AP
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Two Afghan soldiers have been arrested in connection with the deaths of at least 28 people, mostly women and children, who were killed by artillery fired at a wedding party from military checkpoints.

Another eight soldiers were still under investigation last night.

General Sultan Mahmoud, the head of the army in southern Helmand province, where the incident took place on Wednesday night, said the soldiers had been arrested late yesterday.

“There is still a possibility of more arrests because the investigation is not over yet, but those who were directly involved have been arrested today,” he said.

Investigators sent from Kabul by the defence ministry arrived in Helmand’s capital of Lashkar Gah earlier in the day, deputy defence ministry spokesman General Dawlat Waziri said.

An initial probe found soldiers had fired at a house from two directions while the wedding party was in full swing in the volatile district of Sangin, in the poppy-producing Helmand river valley.

Officials in the province earlier said that the artillery fire had wounded at least 51 people at the house in the Sarwankhala area of Sangin, where government forces and Taleban insurgents have fought skirmishes for the past six months since United States forces withdrew.

Gen Mahmoud said all soldiers in the area at the time of the incident had been confined to their base until the investigation concluded.

The early investigation showed that the Afghans did not suspect the Taleban of ­firing the rockets. Later, about 300 people travelled from Sangin to the provincial capital of Helmand, 52 miles away, to protest outside the home of the governor and demand justice for the dead.

The incident happened just hours before Afghanistan’s own forces took control of nationwide security on Thursday after the end of the 13-year international combat mission led by the US and Nato.

President Ashraf Ghani said, as the country took full responsibility for its own affairs, that Afghans should support their security forces in the interests of building a strong and peaceful Afghanistan.

Fighting continues across the country, however, as Taleban insurgents test the capacity of the Afghan forces, who have been trained mainly by the US military but now operate largely without their help.

Earlier yesterday, in Lashkar Gah, three employees of the private Azizi Bank and a policeman were killed when a roadside bomb exploded beneath a bank vehicle, Omar Zwak, a spokesman for the provincial governor, said.