A roadside bomb hit a wedding party on its way to a ceremony in southern Afghanistan, killing 21 people including women and children, Afghan officials said today. A local police chief said that a Western airstrike hours later killed five farmers loading cucumbers into a taxi in a neighboring province; a US spokeswoman said the men were militants placing weapons into a van.
Violence and deaths are climbing sharply as Western forces push into Taliban territory ahead of the Aug. 20 presidential elections, but rising civilian casualties are seen as deeply damaging to the international effort to defeat the insurgents. The large group of men, women, and children heading to the wedding were riding a tractor in the Garmser district of Helmand province yesterday morning when the roadside bomb hit. Some 4,000 Marines moved into the Garmser area last month to secure roads and population centers ahead of the presidential vote.