The U.N. said Wednesday that 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. The U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) in a tweet said "harm to civilians must stop," noting that the "search operation" took place during the Qurban Bayram (Eid al-Adha) holidays. A provincial council member, Allah Mir Khan Bahramzoi, put the number of civilians killed at 13 and said most of them were university students, as well as a school headmaster. They were reportedly killed in an operation that took place on Sunday night. The operation, according to Bahramzoi, was conducted by Afghan security forces and took place in Zurmat district of the province.
According to a quarterly report published by UNAMA at the end of July, pro-government forces have killed more civilians than anti-government elements in the first six months of the year, though terrorists have caused more civilian injuries. Afghan security forces and foreign allies killed 717 civilians, while terrorists killed 531. In total, 1,366 civilians were killed in the conflict, a decrease of 21% on the same period last year. However, the total number of people killed or injured by pro-government forces rose to 1,397, a 31% increase, with search operations and airstrikes the main cause, UNAMA said. Civilian casualties caused by anti-government elements, including the Taliban and Islamic State, totaled 1,968, down 43% on last year.
Civilian casualties in Afghanistan have been increasing, despite attempts by the U.S. and the Taliban to negotiate an agreement to end the 18-year war. There has been no let-up in violence, even though the Taliban and the U.S. 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. U.S. envoy Zalmay Khalilzad tweeted Sunday that he hoped this would be the last Eid al-Adha in which Afghanistan is at war, referring to the Muslim holiday that began over the weekend. The Taliban's holiday message expressed the hope that future Eids would unfold "without occupation, under an environment of permanent peace and unity."