Gunmen kill nine at Afghan wedding party

Gunmen stormed a wedding party in eastern Afghanistan overnight, killing the groom and eight other people in an attack blamed on Taleban-linked insurgents, officials say.

The groom was a cousin of the local district chief, and women and children were also among the casualties in the attack at the family party in Nangarhar province, which borders Pakistan, the provincial spokesman told AFP.

The gunmen were armed with AK-47 assault rifles and stormed the house where the party was being held, said spokesman Abdulzia Ahmadzai.

"Nine people were killed and five others injured last night when armed opposition militants attacked a wedding party in Dur Baba district," the spokesman said.

District chief Hamisha Gul Muslim told AFP that his cousin had been the groom and that he had been killed in the attack.

Muslim said he was not at the party at the time and said that officials were investigating the incident.

The Taleban were not immediately reachable for comment, but the militants have frequently targeted government officials as well as the police and army in their nearly 10-year insurgency against Kabul and US-led Nato troops.

The east, which borders Pakistan, where militants have hideouts, has long been a flashpoint for violence blamed on the Taleban and other insurgents.

Last month, a suicide bomber killed 13 people in Nangarhar and in February, an attack on a bank in the provincial capital, Jalalabad, left 38 people dead.

There are now roughly 130,000 foreign forces in Afghanistan trying to support the US-backed government in Kabul and reverse the Taleban insurgency.

Civilians have suffered hugely in the conflict and last year was the deadliest since the 2001 US-led invasion brought down the Taleban regime for refusing to give up Osama bin Laden after the September 11 attacks.

The United Nations said 2777 civilians were killed in 2010, a 15 per cent increase compared to 2009. The bulk of the civilian casualties last year were blamed on the insurgents, according to the report.

Elsewhere in Afghanistan, the defence ministry said on Thursday that Afghan and foreign troops had captured Washer district in the southern province of Helmand, one of the worst battlefields in the war and where the Taleban are strong.

The ministry said the militants had retreated without putting up any resistance, but provided few other details.

The provincial capital Lashkar Gah, where Taleban resistance remains, is one of the first seven places scheduled to transition from Western to Afghan security control from July onwards.

Afghan police and army personnel are set to take increasing responsibility for security as foreign troops stage a phased withdrawal, which has been billed to start in July and is due to complete by the end of 2014

But exact dates for when the seven areas will transition are still unclear, a conference on the issue has been postponed twice and the United States has yet to decide how many American troops are leaving this summer.

Neither do outspoken Afghan politicians believe local security forces are sufficiently prepared for the switch amid fears that the Taleban will target the relatively peaceful areas involved.

- AFP

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