FILE - Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad speaks on the prospects for peace, Feb. 8, 2019, at the US Institute of Peace, in Washington.
FILE - Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad speaks on the prospects for peace, Feb. 8, 2019, at the U.S. Institute of Peace, in Washington.

Ayaz Gul in Islamabad, Pakistan, contributed to this report. 

The U.S. envoy negotiating with the Taliban in Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, says the answer to lowering the death toll in that country is to achieve a peace deal.

Wednesday, the United Nations released a report saying more Afghan civilians were killed in the first three months of 2019 by U.S. and Afghan government forces than by the Taliban and other insurgents.

Khalilzad said Thursday on Twitter that the deaths "outrage us all & we stand w/Afghans who protest the deaths & want to end the bloodshed."

He said, "We deeply regret any loss of innocent life during military operations" and added the "real solution is a cease-fire or reduced violence as we pursue lasting peace."

The U.N. report said in the first three months of 2019, pro-government forces caused 305 deaths and 303 injuries among civilians, while insurgent groups killed 227 civilians and injured 736.

Masih Rahman speaks during an interview with the A
Masih Rahman speaks during an interview with the Associated Press in Kabul, Afghanistan, April 23, 2019. In September last year Masih Rahman's entire family of 11 people, his wife, four daughters, three sons and four nephews, were killed when a bomb flattened their home in central Maidan Wardak province..

Women and children made up half of the civilian casualties from all aerial operations, according to the report. But overall, it was the least deadly first quarter since 2013.

The U.N. attributed the lower number to the decrease in suicide bombings in the embattled country.

"It is unclear whether the decrease in civilian casualties was influenced by any measures taken by parties to the conflict to better protect civilians, or by the ongoing talks between parties to the conflict," the United Nations report said.

"A shocking number of civilians continue to be killed and maimed each day. All parties must do more to safeguard civilians," Tadamichi Yamamoto, U.N. special representative for Afghanistan, said in a statement. "All parties must do more to safeguard civilians."

Khalilzad echoed that sentiment Thursday, saying in a third tweet, "For us, peace is the agenda."

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said that Yamamoto met Thursday with the head of the insurgent group's "political office," Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, in Qatar and "showed his appreciation for the decrease in civilian casualties caused by the Islamic Emirate [Taliban]." 
 
In a statement sent to journalists, Mujahid noted the "extensive discussions" between the two sides in Doha covered the Afghan peace process, civilian casualties and humanitarian operations in Taliban-controlled areas. 
 
He said that Baradar "encouraged" Yamamoto and his delegation in Afghanistan to "strictly adhere to the principles of impartiality in such issues and appropriately discharge their responsibilities in the discussed arenas." 

The Taliban spokesman said some members of their team engaged in negotiations with Khalilzad also attended the meeting.

The U.N. office in Kabul in a tweet Friday defended Yamamoto’s meeting with insurgent officials without commenting on Taliban assertions about the outcome of the interaction.

“In support of Afghan people and government’s efforts to end the war, reduce civilian casualties to zero and provide humanitarian aid to most vulnerable Afghans, U.N. envoy to Afghanistan Yamamoto yesterday held a regal meeting with Taliban in Doha,” it said.