The United Nations says the armed conflict in Afghanistan last year killed more than 3,800 civilians, including 927 children, the highest number of civilian deaths recorded in the past ten years.
The intensified violence injured nearly 7,200 civilians and the overall civilian casualties rose by five percent in 2018, according to a new report released Sunday by the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA).
It blamed a spike in suicide attacks by Islamic State's local affiliate, known as Khorasan Province (ISKP), and increased harm to civilians from aerial as well as search operations by pro-government forces for the significant rise in civilian casualties.
Children’s deaths shocking
"The fact that the number of children killed this year is the highest on record, is particularly shocking," the report quoted U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet as lamenting.
The UNAMA attributed the majority of civilian casualties - 63 percent - to anti-government forces: 37 per cent to the Taliban, 20 per cent to ISKP and 6 per cent to undetermined militants. The rest of the civilian casualties were blamed on Afghan security forces and their U.S.-led foreign partners.
"This is the U.N.'s tenth annual report documenting the plight of civilians in the Afghan conflict more than 32,000 civilians killed and around 60,000 injured in a decade," said UNAMA's chief Tadamichi Yamamoto.
He reiterated his call for halting the fighting to put an end to the human misery and tragedy in Afghanistan.
"That is why there is all the more need now to use all our efforts to bring about peace. I urge all parties to seize every opportunity to do so," said Yamamoto.
Peace talks continue
For the first time in a decade, UNAMA recorded more than 1,000 civilian casualties, including 536 deaths, from aerial operations and blamed U.S.-led international military forces for causing nearly 60 percent of them.
Official data shows the U.S. military dropped 7,362 bombs and munitions in Afghanistan in 2018, the highest in a single year in at least a decade.
The ramped up airstrikes have been part of the Trump administration's strategy to try to pressure the Taliban to the negotiating table, though the campaign could not break the battlefield stalemate and insurgents continued to make territorial gains.
The Taliban swiftly declared the UNAMA report as "tendentious" and propaganda material, saying it did not offer "any proof or justification" for attributing 37 percent civilian casualties to the insurgent group.
"The entire Afghan nation is a witness that the American invaders, by their own admission, have dropped over 7000 bombs against the Afghans over the course of last year," a Taliban statement noted. It accused both U.S. and Afghan forces for causing "eighty percent" of all civilian casualties, saying insurgent fighters take utmost care when dealing with civilian lives.
The report on civilian casualties comes a day before the United States is due to resume peace negotiations with the Taliban in Qatar to promote a political settlement to the conflict in Afghanistan. There have been several meetings between the two sides since last fall and both reported "significant progress" toward ending the war after their interaction a month ago in the Qatari capital of Doha.