MAZAR-E-SHARIF -- Mass graves containing the bodies of more than 40 civilians believed to be massacred by Taliban and "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS) insurgents were found Tuesday (August 15) after Afghan forces recaptured the village where they died, officials said.
In a rare joint operation by the rival militants, fighters killed dozens of men, women and children in Mirzawalang, a mainly Shia village in Sayad District of Sar-e-Pul Province, on August 5 after overrunning a government-backed militia, according to officials and residents.
"Yesterday, Mirzawalang was cleared of the Taliban militants," Zabiullah Amani, a spokesman for the Sar-e-Pul governor, told Salaam Times on Tuesday.
"So far, we have found bodies of 42 local residents whom the Taliban mercilessly decapitated," he said. "In the first mass grave 23 people were buried, including three children who were 8, 12 and 15 years old. The Taliban first shot and then beheaded them."
He said 11 bodies were found in the second grave and 8 in a third, adding that "the search continues to find other bodies".
"More than 55 terrorists, including several of their commanders, were killed in the operation to retake control of Mirzawalang," Amani said. "Moreover, 25 other insurgents, including a brother of an ISIS commander by the name of Qari Shir Mohammad Ghazanfar, were wounded."
"All those whose bodies were found today in mass graves were civilians, including children, women and elderly," said Sayed Mohammad Hassan Sharifi Balkhabi, a representative of Sar-e-Pul in parliament.
"During their presence in Mirzawalang, the Taliban and ISIS terrorists plundered the property and assets of about 500 families and burnt down the houses of most of the residents of this area," he told Salaam Times.
The discovery came after a spokesman for the Afghan National Army's northern military corps, Nasratullah Jamshidi, said troops had retaken the village following several days of intense fighting.
"Our forces are in full control of the village and are searching for Taliban mines and booby traps," Jamshidi told AFP.
Afghan forces had "pushed the Taliban out of the village" Monday (August 14) afternoon and that militants suffered "heavy casualties", Gen. Dawlat Waziri, a Defence Ministry spokesman, said.
There has been no word on any casualties to Afghan forces.
Survivors fleeing the violence described nightmarish scenes of militants going from house to house, gunning down the residents.
The Taliban also took a number of residents captive but later released 235 hostages after elders and provincial officials struck a deal with the group.
ISIS claimed responsibility for killing 54 Shia in Sar-e-Pul in a statement released by its propaganda outlet Amaq late Monday.
The Taliban earlier claimed they captured the village but said they did so alone. They denied allegations of killing civilians.
Taliban and ISIS fighters have regularly clashed since the latter gained a foothold in the country in 2015, but security sources say they have teamed up to attack Afghan forces on a few occasions.
[Sulaiman in Kabul contributed to this report.]