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Afghanistan: Civilian deaths hit record high, says UN

A total of 1,692 civilians killed in first half of 2018 despite June's truce between the government and the Taliban.

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The number of civilians killed in Afghanistan hit a record high in the first half of the year, despite last month's ceasefire, according to the United Nations. 

In the latest figures released on Sunday by the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), 1,692 civilians were killed during the first six months of 2018 - the most recorded in the period over the last decade since the agency began documentation. 

However, with a total of 5,122 casualties, including 3,430 injuries, UNAMA recorded a three percent overall decrease in the number of those affected by the violence in the war-torn country.

The UN figures also showed a 15 percent drop in child and women casualties - at 1,355 and 544 respectively - but UNAMA voiced grave concern over the human cost of the conflict.

"In the first six months of 2018, the armed conflict continued to destroy the lives and livelihoods of civilians at the same toxic levels as last year," the report said.

A temporary break in fighting was declared independently by both the Afghan government and the Taliban during the first three days of Eid after the Muslim holy month of Ramadan in June.

"The brief ceasefire demonstrated that the fighting can be stopped and that Afghan civilians no longer need to bear the brunt of the war," said Tadamichi Yamamoto, UNAMA head and the UN secretary-general's special representative for Afghanistan, as he urged all parties to find a peaceful solution.

casualties

'Brutal effects of war'

The UNAMA report attributed 42 percent of the civilian casualties to the Afghan Taliban and 18 percent to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS), noting a fourfold increase in deaths and injuries caused by both the armed groups.

Afghan security forces have struggled to battle the Taliban and ISIL since the United States and NATO formally concluded their combat mission in the country in 2014 and shifted their focus to a "support and counterterrorism" role.

Meanwhile, pro-government forces, including Afghan national security forces and international military forces, caused a fifth of the civilian casualties so far this year. 

Ground engagements accounted for the most victims at 1,494 followed by suicide and complex attacks, which led to 1,413 casualties.

The UN research also noted a sharp increase of 52 percent in casualties caused by aerial bombing amid US' expansion of air raids in a bid to force the Taliban to enter peace negotiations.

Civilians living in the provinces of Kabul, Nangarhar, Faryab, Helmand and Kandahar were the most affected by the conflict, the report said.

casualties

There has been a recent surge in violence in Afghanistan's eastern city of Jalalabad in Nangarhar province this month.

In less than two weeks, three separate attacks in the provincial capital have killed at least 41 people, with the latest one on July 11 targeting an office of the education department. 

The UN mission expressed particular concern at the trend of targeting education facilities by anti-government forces. 

"Conflict-related violence continued to erode the rights of children to education, healthcare, freedom of movement and other fundamental rights, as well as family life, playing outdoors and simply enjoying a childhood free of the brutal effects of war," said Danielle Bell, UNAMA's human rights chief, in a statement.

On the day the UN report was released a suicide bomber detonated his explosives at the gate of a government building in the Afghan capital of Kabul, killing at least seven civilians.

More than 15 others were wounded in Sunday's attack, which occured during the evening rush hour as employees were leaving the Ministry of Rural Rehabilitation and Development (MRRD).

Commenting on the security situation in Afghanistan, Shafiq Hamdam, security expert and the former adviser to NATO forces, said that soft and high-profile attacks make "big news" and that is what groups like ISIL want. 

"They (ISIL) have been targeting mosques, madrassas, educational institutions as well as even hospitals and clinics, so this clearly shows that they want to make news in the media," Hamdam said on Sunday. 

Election-related violence targeting voter registration centres also killed 117 civilians and caused 224 injuries, the report found.

Long-delayed parliamentary and district council elections are scheduled for October 20 this year.


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