JALALABAD, Afghanistan -- The workers were sleeping on the mountainside where they had spent a long day harvesting pine nuts in eastern Afghanistan. Some were in tents, others lay outside under the stars, when the U.S. airstrike tore into them.
Only hours before the Sept. 19 strike, the businessman who hired them had heard there was a drone over the mountain and called Afghanistan's intelligence agency to remind an official his workers were there -- as he'd notified the agency days earlier.
"He laughed and said, 'Don't worry they are not going to bomb you,'" the businessman, Aziz Rahman, recalled.
Twenty workers were killed in the strike, including seven members of one family. A relative, Mohammed Hasan, angrily described body parts they found scattered on the ground, gesturing at his arm, his leg, his head.
"This is not their ('Americans') first mistake," said Hasan. "They say 'sorry.' What are we supposed to do with 'sorry?' ... People now are angry. They are so angry with the foreigners, with this government."
Increasing civilian deaths in stepped-up U.S. airstrikes and operations by Afghan forces highlight the conundrum the U.S. military and its Afghan allies face, 18 years into the war: How to hunt down their Islamic State group and Taliban enemies, while keeping civilians safe and on their side.
Complaints have also grown over abuses and killings by a CIA-trained Afghan special intelligence force known as Unit 02. In the same province, Nangarhar, members of the Unit killed four brothers during a raid on their home. The brothers' hands were bound and they were shot in the head.
Former President Hamid Karzai, in a recent interview with The Associated Press, said he didn't want the U.S. troops for "one more minute" if deaths of civilians continued.
Some 16,000 civilians have been killed since 2009 in the war, according to the U.N. Overall, civilian deaths are down so far this year, on track to the lowest number since 2012.
But civilian deaths caused by U.S. and Afghan government forces are rising, surpassing for the first time those caused by the Taliban and other insurgents, according to a U.N. report .
It found that U.S. and Afghan forces killed 717 civilians and injured 680 in the first six months of the year, up 31% from the same period in 2018. The Taliban and IS killed 531 and wounded 1,437, down 43%.
Michael Kugelman, deputy director of the Asia Program at the Washington-based Wilson Center, said that is because U.S. President Donald Trump has sought to ramp up pressure on the battlefield amid negotiations with the Taliban and has loosened rules of engagement for U.S. forces.