GENEVA - A new United Nations report finds a record number of civilians have been killed and injured in Afghanistan in the first half of this year.
The report blames most of the 24 percent increase in civilian casualties on the Taliban.
It attributes the worsening situation for civilians to the changing nature of conflict in Afghanistan, saying ground combat among the warring parties has now surpassed improvised explosive devices as the leading cause of conflict-related death and injury to Afghan civilians.
The report finds ground engagements and crossfire are hitting children and women with unprecedented force.
"During the first half of 2014, over 1,000 kids were either injured or killed in Afghanistan, which is a 30 percent increase compared to last year," said Cecile Pouilly, spokeswoman for the U.N. Human Rights Office. "And similarly, you have many more women being injured. Sixty-four of them were injured during the first six months of 2014 because this ground engagement is really taking place in public places, sometimes at the very home of ordinary people."
Civilian deaths and injuries caused by mortars, rocket-propelled grenades and small arms fire in ground engagements have jumped dramatically, according to the report. In the first six months of the year, the U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan documents 4,853 civilian casualties, including 1,564 civilian deaths.
It says ground engagements have caused two of every five civilian casualties in 2014, accounting for 39 percent of all civilian casualties.
Improvised explosive devices used by anti-government elements as the second leading cause of civilian casualties this year, with suicide and complex attacks by these groups as the third leading cause of deaths and injuries. The report attributes three quarters of all civilian casualties to the anti-government forces.
Pouilly notes the Taliban has publicly claimed responsibility for 76 attacks on military targets, as well as 69 attacks that deliberately targeted civilians.
She says the victims include tribal elders, civilian government employees and civilians simply sitting in restaurants and other public places.
"They may amount to war crimes, indeed," Pouilly said. "You know, attacks which fail to distinguish between military and civilian objective, and attacks that deliberately attack civilians are indeed serious violations of international humanitarian law."
The U.N. mission began monitoring civilian casualties in 2009. Compared with the first six months of 2009, the number of civilians killed by anti-government elements this year has doubled, according to the international organization. On the other hand, the UN says the number of civilians killed by pro-government forces has been cult in half between 2009 and 2014.
It attributes 9 percent of all civilian casualties this year to pro-government forces, 8 percent to Afghan national security forces and 1 percent to international forces.