By Abdul Qadir Sediqi
KABUL (Reuters) – The United Nations said on Wednesday it was gravely concerned about reports indicating 11 civilians had been killed in an Afghan security force operation in an eastern province near the border with Pakistan.
Civilian casualties in Afghanistan have been increasing, despite attempts by the United States and the Taliban to negotiate an agreement to end the 18-year war.
The government’s main security agency, the National Directorate of Security (NDS), said the operation in Paktia province had targeted a Taliban hideout and among the 11 dead militants were two commanders.
The U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan said it was gravely concerned at the killings during a search operation and a human rights team was investigating.
“Accountability essential. Harm to civilians must stop,” the agency said in a post on Twitter.
A politician in the area said the government forces attacked a student gathering over the Eid al-Adha Muslim holiday.
“A university student had invited his classmates for dinner,” Allah Mir Khan Bahramzoi, a provincial council member in Paktia, told Reuters.
“Late in the evening, security forces surrounded the house, brought out the victims from the guesthouse and shot them one by one,” he said by telephone from the province.
The NDS said weapons and ammunition were seized in the raid.
“This operation was conducted based on operative information on a Taliban hideout/centre and it left no civilian casualties,” the agency said in a statement.
The United Nations says nearly 4,000 civilians were killed or wounded in the first half of the year. The toll included a big increase in the number of casualties inflicted by government and U.S.-led foreign forces.
Ground raids and clashes caused the most civilian casualties, followed by bomb attacks and air strikes, UNAMA said in a report last month.
There has been no let-up in violence, even though the Taliban and the United States have both reported significant progress in talks on a pact for U.S. troops to withdraw in exchange for a Taliban promise that Afghanistan will not be used as a base for militant attacks.
Their latest round of talks ended on Monday without a final agreement. No date has been announced for the next round.
(Writing by Robert Birsel; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)