KABUL, Nov. 28 (CGTN) -- At least 30 civilians were killed in a U.S. air strike in southeastern Afghanistan, officials and local residents said Wednesday, as NATO forces accused the Taliban of using women and children as protection.

The strike reportedly occurred during a firefight between Afghan special forces working with U.S. advisors and Taliban insurgents late Tuesday in restive Helmand province.

NATO said air support was requested by security forces on the ground as the militants deployed heavy weapons and retreated into a nearby compound.

"At the time of the strike, the ground force was unaware of any civilians in or around the compound; they only knew that the Taliban was using the building as a fighting position," NATO said in a statement.

"The Taliban continue to use civilians, especially children, as a protective measure," it added.

Residents of the area said women and 16 children were among the dead.

Helmand provincial governor Mohammad Yasin Khan said the air strikes in Garmsir caused both civilian and Taliban casualties.

The deaths are part of a growing civilian casualty toll caused by air strikes, and underline the severity of the Afghan war even as moves to begin peace talks have picked up with contacts between U.S. peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad and Taliban representatives.

The United Nations said last month that the number of civilian casualties from air strikes in Afghanistan was already higher in the first nine months of the year than in any entire year since at least 2009.

The increase has come together with a sharp jump in the number of air operations under a U.S. strategy aimed at stepping up pressure on the Taliban to force them to accept a negotiated end to the 17-year war, while the Taliban has also increased attacks on Afghan forces.