UN office in west Afghanistan comes under fire; guard killed

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — A U.N. office in western Afghanistan came under fire Friday and one of its guards was killed as the Taliban and Afghan forces waged fierce battles in the area, the United Nations said.

The clashes were taking place in the district of Guzara in Herat province, about 10 kilometers (6 miles), from the Herat provincial capital. It wasn’t immediately clear which side was responsible for the fire that hit the U.N. office.

Fighting has intensified across Afghanistan as the last U.S. and NATO troops complete their pullout from the war-torn country. In the past months, the Taliban have overrun dozens of districts and seized several strategic border crossings.

Deborah Lyons, the U.N. special representative for Afghanistan, called the attack deplorable and said the U.N. was in touch with both sides in the conflict to determine how the office came under fire and by whom.

“The perpetrators of this attack must be identified and brought to account,” she said. “The U.N. is urgently seeking to establish a full picture about the attack and for this purpose is in contact with the relevant parties.”

Taliban spokesman Qari Yousuf Ahmadi released a statement saying the U.N. office was caught in the crossfire but that the “office was safe, and they should not have any concern. ”

The chairperson of Afghanistan's Independent Human Rights Commission, Shaharzad Akbar, tweeted that attacks against U.N. could amount to war crimes.

“Reading the news and my heart is burning,” she tweeted. “Thinking about everyone who is living in fear at this moment in Afghanistan. Every family that can’t even plan for tomorrow. All the terrorized children. What has war brought us but misery, suffering, uncertainty & dependency?”

In Washington, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan and State Department deputy spokeswoman Jalina Porter condemned the deadly attack on the U.N. in Herat.

“Attacks against civilian U.N. personnel and facilities are prohibited under international law," Sullivan said. “We reiterate our call for an immediate reduction in violence in Afghanistan, and for all regional actors to encourage the parties to return to negotiations without delay."

For the past year, a resurgent Taliban have held sway over roughly half of Afghanistan. But since the announcement this spring that U.S. and NATO troops would completely pull out of the country, the Taliban have swept through dozens of districts, seizing more land and even taking control of key border crossings with neighboring countries.

In Herat, the insurgents have taken the Islam Qala key border crossing with Iran.