By Alexandra Zavis and Hashmat Baktash
7:42 AM AKST, January 13, 2013
KABUL, Afghanistan -- An explosion Sunday in a restive province west of Kabul killed at least seven civilians as they tried to pull bodies from the rubble of a mosque after a night raid by Afghan and NATO special forces, Afghan officials said.
It was not immediately clear what caused the blast in the Sayed Abad district of Wardak province.
Shahidullah Shahid, a spokesman for the provincial governor, said Taliban militants had opened fire on the joint force from inside the mosque in Hasan Khail after an insurgent was detained at another location.
During the exchange of fire, he said, suicide vests worn by the militants detonated, killing four of them. The later explosion that killed the villagers, including a woman, took place about 90 minutes after the operation ended, he said.
The North Atlantic Treaty Organization command confirmed that the joint force killed four insurgents after coming under attack, but said they died from small arms fire.
An Afghan soldier was also killed, according to a statement from the NATO-lead International Security Assistance Force. There were no arrests, an ISAF spokesman said.
“ISAF is aware of reports that Afghan civilians were killed and injured after the operation,” said U.S. Army Col. Thomas Collins, another ISAF spokesman. “We take all allegations of civilian casualties seriously and in coordination with Afghan officials will determine the facts of what happened.”
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid, in a statement emailed to reporters, accused the international force of killing 12 civilians and injuring two others in two air strikes against the mosque.
Some villagers reported seeing helicopters and hearing explosions, said Shirshah Bazoon, who is from Sayed Abad district and heads the provincial council. But he said government officials believe the explosions were the result of suicide vests worn by the insurgents.
Collins said munitions were not dropped by coalition aircraft.
“After the engagement, the security force discovered a cache of weapons and explosives and destroyed it on site before withdrawing from the area,” the ISAF statement said.
Night raids by special forces and civilian casualties have been major points of friction between Afghan President Hamid Karzai and his Western allies. According to NATO figures, insurgents were responsible for 84% of civilian casualties last year, injuring or killing 3,500 Afghans.