Taliban militants have reportedly killed at least seven Afghan villagers after abducting 70 of them on Friday. Afghan officials say some 30 villagers in the country's south have been released while 30 are still missing.
The kidnappings took place on Friday along the main highway in Afghanistan's southern Kandahar province.
"The Taliban abducted 70 people from their houses in a village along the Kandahar-Tarinkot highway, Friday. They killed seven of them today," Abdul Raziq, the head of Kandahar provincial police, told AFP news agency on Saturday.
"Their bodies were found by villagers this [Saturday] morning," Raziq added. "They released 30 and are still keeping around 30 others."
The motive of kidnappings is unclear. Islamist militants usually abduct government officials and security personnel for ransom or to bargain for the release of detained jihadis.
Local media claims the Taliban accused villagers of cooperating with the authorities.
On Sunday, Afghan police launched a search and rescue operation to recover the missing villagers.
Civilians in the crosshairs
Civilians are increasingly becoming a target in the 16-year-long conflict.
According to a mid-year report released Monday that includes figures from the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), 1,662 civilians were killed in the first sixth months of 2017, and 3,581 were injured.
Though the total for civilian casualties - including both injuries and deaths - was slightly lower than over the same period in 2016, the 2 percent increase in the death toll brings it to its highest level since 2014.
The United Nations Special Representative for Afghanistan and UNAMA head, Tadamichi Yamamoto, described the Afghan conflict's human toll as "far too high."
"The continued use of indiscriminate, disproportionate and illegal improvised explosive devices is particularly appalling and must immediately stop," Yamamoto said in a statement.
The report said that 40 percent of the civilian lives lost were due to violence from anti-government forces, such as the Taliban and the so-called "Islamic State" (IS), using improvised explosive devices (IEDs) or carrying out suicide attacks.
Support for Taliban
Friday's incident was confirmed by officials at the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission in Kandahar and Kabul.
"Unfortunately, the security situation in Afghanistan is deteriorating. One of the reasons in my view is the premature withdrawal of international security forces due to a lack of a long-term comprehensive strategy for the country. A united approach by the different countries involved in military activities and reconstruction efforts was lacking right from the start," Sima Samar, the chairperson of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission, told DW.
Kandahar, where the Friday incident took place, borders Pakistan and is known as the "birthplace of the Taliban movement."
The Afghan government mainly blames Islamabad for training and supporting the Taliban.
"We need to find the root causes for their [Taliban] behavior. Who are the countries supporting them and why? I believe that the world knows who supports the Taliban. But no strong and united action has been taken against those countries that are the factories for the production of terrorists in the region and in the world," Samar underlined.
On Friday, the US Defense Department withheld $50 million (42.8 million euros) in Pakistan military payments after Pentagon chief Jim Mattis accused Islamabad of not countering the Taliban-affiliated Haqqani network based in Pakistan's northwestern tribal areas.