|A UN report blamed fighters for 80 per cent of war-related civilian deaths in the first half of 2011 [REUTERS]
Mullah Omar, leader of the Afghan Taliban, has urged his fighters to avoid civilian casualties in their fight against the government and foreign forces.
In a message released on the Taliban's website on Friday, Omar said he believed conflicts such as the decade-long Afghan war were resolved by "realisation and understanding". He also again urged the immediate withdrawal of all foreign troops from Afghanistan.
The United States and other nations have said combat operations will not cease until the end of 2014, and that a substantial training and mentoring mission for Afghan forces will remain in place for much longer.
"Do not wrongly pester and daunt anyone by the barrel of the gun," the statement in Omar's name said in English. "The mujahedeen have to take every step to protect the lives and wealth of ordinary people."
The statement, issued to mark the Muslim hoilday Eid al-Adha, warned of punishments under Islamic law for fighters responsible for civilian deaths.
The United Nations has reported the number of civilians killed in Afghanistan in the first half of this year rose by 15 per cent to 1,462 over the year before. The report said fighters were responsible for 80 per cent of all the war-related civilian deaths.
The elusive, one-eyed Omar has not been seen in public since 2001. In July, the Taliban accused the US of hacking into their mobile phones to send a text message to journalists claiming he was dead.
He was also quoted in the statement as saying "the resolution to all conflicts and tribulations resides in realisation and understanding" without giving further details.
Some commentators interpreted a previous message by Omar in August as signalling a shift towards a greater willingness to engage in peace talks.
Any hopes for a negotiated settlement were seriously damaged, however, when President Hamid Karzai's envoy Burhanuddin Rabbani was murdered by a suspected Taliban member in September.
Karzai said at a regional conference this week in Istanbul that the Afghan peace process would not succeed unless top Taliban leaders joined it.
A decade after being toppled from power, the Taliban continue to wage deadly attacks against international and Afghan forces. Seventeen people, including 10 Americans, died on Saturday when a car bomb hit a military bus in Kabul.