Afghan civilians continue to be killed in record numbers by anti-government armed groups this year, the United Nations said, noting that the deaths have been the highest since 2014.
The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) said that from January to September 2018, an estimated 2,798 civilians have been killed and 5,252 others injured in attacks across the country.
The casualties were blamed on suicide bombings and the use of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) by “anti-government elements”.
The report released on Wednesday said the use of IEDs increased in frequency and in lethality, causing record high civilian casualty levels in the first three quarters of 2018.
Ground engagements, targeted killings, aerial operations and unexploded mines were also blamed for the deaths.
Of “grave concern”, the report noted, that anti-government elements increasingly directed attacks against civilians from ethnic and religious minorities.
Afghan security forces have struggled to battle the Taliban and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) since the US and NATO formally concluded their combat mission in the country in 2014 and shifted their focus to a “support and counterterrorism” role.
Among the latest attacks in Afghanistan were the suicide bombing in eastern Nangarhar province, that left at least 68 people dead, and a suicide explosion in Kabul in August, targeting a Shia neighbourhood, that killed 34 students.
Election-related violence targeting voter registration centres also killed 126 civilians and caused 240 injuries, the report found.
“As there can be no military solution to the fighting in Afghanistan, the United Nations renews its call for an immediate and peaceful settlement to the conflict to end the suffering of the Afghan people,” said Tadamichi Yamamoto, head of the UN agency, said.
“All parties can and should do their utmost to protect civilians from harm, including by making concrete progress toward peace.”
Long-delayed parliamentary and district council elections are scheduled for October 20 this year.
The latest UN findings said Nangarhar, Kabul, Helmand, Ghazni and Faryab were the provinces most impacted by the conflict.
For the first time, Nangarhar surpassed Kabul as the province with the most civilian casualties in the first nine months of 2018, more than double the number recorded during the same period in 2017.
“Every civilian death leaves a family devastated, grieving and struggling to come to terms with the loss, and each civilian injured or maimed causes untold suffering,” Danielle Bell, head of UNAMA’s human rights official, said.
“The worrying rise in civilian casualties in Nangarhar reflects an unacceptable trend that is indicative of how Afghan civilians continue to bear the brunt of this ongoing conflict.”
The UN called on anti-government groups to cease immediately the “deliberate targeting” of civilians, particularly with the use of illegal and indiscriminate IEDs.
All parties to the conflict must also protect civilians from harm, and adhere to their international humanitarian law obligations.