At least 20 people were killed when a gunfight broke out at a wedding party in northern Afghanistan, officials said Monday, highlighting the fragile security situation in the war-torn country.
The clashes erupted late Sunday in Deh Salah district in Baghlan, a once-tranquil province that has recently been plagued by growing insecurity as the Taliban insurgency spreads north from its southern and eastern strongholds.
"As a result of the clashes, 20 people were killed and 10 others were wounded," provincial police spokesman Jawed Basharat told AFP.
District police chief Gulistan Qusani said the armed men traded verbal barbs before the gunfight broke out.
"A local security official fired in the air after the verbal exchange heated up... and then both sides started trading fire," Qusani told AFP, giving a higher death toll of 21.
He added that the victims were all male guests at the wedding aged between 14 and 60.
Baghlan police spokesman Sultan Mohammad Ebadi said an official delegation had been sent to the area to investigate the matter.
Fatal gun fights and celebratory gun fire are woefully common at Afghan weddings, which have boomed in recent years in a country battered by nearly 40 years of war.
Afghan soldiers mistakenly fired mortars at a wedding party in late December in the southern province of Helmand, killing 17 women and children.
Some witnesses said the army attack was triggered when wedding guests shot celebratory gunfire into the air as the bride was brought to the groom's house.
In July 2012, a suicide bomber killed a prominent Afghan lawmaker and 16 other people at his daughter's wedding party in the north of the country.
And in June 2011, gunmen stormed a wedding party in eastern Afghanistan, killing the groom and eight other people in an attack blamed on Taliban-linked insurgents.
The Afghan government conducted its first face-to-face talks with Taliban cadres on July 7 in a Pakistani hill station, aimed at ending nearly 14 years of war.
Afghan officials said Friday they will meet insurgents this week for a second round of talks, pledging to press for a ceasefire in negotiations likely to be held in China.
Despite the willingness to engage in talks there has been no let-up in militant attacks, which are taking a heavy toll on civilians.
A suicide bomber on Wednesday killed 19 people including women and children in a crowded market in the northern province of Faryab, as insurgents intensify their annual summer offensive launched in late April.