UN says Afghan army mistake killed 23

The UN mission in Afghanistan says its findings indicate the Afghan military mistakenly fired mortars this week at a busy market in southern Helmand province that inflicted heavy civilian casualties.

A car bombing and mortar shells struck the market in Sangin district on Monday, killing 23 people, including children, according to a statement from a provincial governor's office.

Both the Taliban and the Afghan military blamed each other for the attack.

A series of tweets late on Tuesday from the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, or UNAMA, said that "multiple credible sources" have asserted that the Afghan army fired the "mortars in response to Taliban fire, missing (the) intended target."

That suggests there was a battle between the Taliban and Afghan forces at the time of the attack.

The UN did not elaborate how its mission reached those findings.

The tweets said both parties in the war in Afghanistan "must stop fighting in civilian-populated areas" as such fighting has caused thousands of civilian casualties. UNAMA also urged the Afghan government "to set up independent investigation team for Monday's incident" and offered its assistance.

The Afghan government has insisted there was no military activity in the Taliban-controlled area at the time of the attack. The Defence Ministry responded on Wednesday to the UN tweets by repeating that statement, adding that Afghan mortars cannot reach the Sangin market from their checkpoints.