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Afghan wedding party bombing toll drops to 5

/ Source: news services

Afghan officials have lowered the death toll in the bombing of a wedding party, saying five people, not 21, were killed when their vehicle hit a mine.

Assadullah Sherzad, police chief of Helmand province, says an officer in Garmser district initially reported that 21 people were killed and five wounded when a tractor pulling them in a trailer to a wedding hit a roadside bomb Wednesday morning.

He says officers now report that five people were killed and five wounded.

A spokesman for the governor says the driver of the tractor was killed along with his wife, two children and another woman. Spokesman Daud Ahmadi says two other women were wounded.

Mounting wave of violence
The attack was part of a mounting wave of violence two weeks before Afghans go to the polls for a presidential election.

General Sher Mohammad Zazai, commander of an Afghan military unit in Helmand province, said the explosion happened Wednesday in a district of the province where U.S. Marines launched the biggest operation of the war last month against Taliban militants.

"It's the work of the enemy of the nation, it's the work of the enemy of peace and the work of the Taliban," Zazai said.

Sherzad said by telephone that the dead included women and children, heading to a wedding in a trailer pulled by a tractor.

A separate roadside bomb exploded next to a police vehicle on Thursday in another part of Helmand province, the Nad Ali district, killing five policemen and wounding three others, the Interior Ministry said in a statement.

Militants or farmers?
And a local police chief said a Western airstrike late Wednesday killed five farmers loading cucumbers into a taxi in the rural Zhari district to the city of Kandahar.

However, a U.S. military spokeswoman said the five were militants placing explosives in a van.

Last month U.S. and British forces launched simultaneous major operations in Helmand province, and they are still fighting to secure areas previously held by Taliban insurgents.

Violence across Afghanistan this year has reached its worst levels since U.S.-led Afghan forces toppled the Taliban in 2001. More than 1,000 civilians were killed between January and June this year, up from 818 in the same period last year, the United Nations said last month.

The operations are meant to expand the Afghan government's control of the volatile south ahead of an Aug. 20 presidential election, part of Washington's effort to defeat militants in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The Taliban have vowed to disrupt the election and have called on Afghans to boycott the ballot.

In another incident, a U.S. soldier was killed by a roadside bomb in the western province of Farah while on patrol on Wednesday, the U.S. military said.

At least 71 international troops were killed in July, the worst monthly toll for foreign forces since the start of the war.

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