'Unprecedented' Afghan civilian casualties in July-September

UN says a record 4,313 civilians have been wounded or killed in Afghanistan during the third quarter of the year.

    Medical staff work on multiple trauma patients at the Emergency Surgical Centre for Civilian War Victims in Kabul [Paula Bronstein/Getty Images]
    Medical staff work on multiple trauma patients at the Emergency Surgical Centre for Civilian War Victims in Kabul [Paula Bronstein/Getty Images]

    An "unprecedented" number of civilians were killed or wounded in Afghanistan from July to September this year, the United Nations has said in a new report, calling the violence "totally unacceptable".

    The report, released on Thursday, said "anti-government elements" were responsible for more casualties for the first time this year than US and pro-government forces.

    The figures - 1,174 deaths and 3,139 wounded from July 1 until September 30 - represent a 42 percent increase over the same period last year. Some 41 percent of the casualties were women and children. 

    That made it the bloodiest period in the world's longest-running war since the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) began compiling figures in 2009.

    The latest figures brought the total of casualties for the first nine months of 2019 to over 8,000, with the majority caused by suicide attacks or improvised explosive devices (IEDs).

    Anti-government fighters were responsible for 62 percent of all casualties this year, though casualties caused by pro-government forces also rose 26 percent, said UNAMA. 

    "Civilian casualties at record-high levels clearly show the need for all parties concerned to pay much more attention to protecting the civilian population, including through a review of conduct during combat operations," said Tadamichi Yamamoto, the UN secretary-general's special representative for Afghanistan.

    "Civilian casualties are totally unacceptable," said Yamamoto, adding they demonstrate the importance of talks leading to a ceasefire and a permanent political settlement.

    The Taliban group fighting the United States-backed government in Kabul control more of Afghanistan than at any time since being removed from power nearly two decades ago. They have stepped up a campaign of suicide bombings in recent years as Washington tries to pull its forces out.

    Violence by the Taliban was the reason cited by US President Donald Trump in September for abruptly calling off talks between the armed group and Washington that were expected to pave the way for peace in Afghanistan.

    The talks, held mainly in Doha, Qatar, starting in September of 2018, had led to a draft agreement which would have seen the US begin withdrawing troops from Afghanistan in exchange for various pledges from the Taliban.

    The hope had been that it would lead to talks and an eventual settlement between the Taliban and the US-backed government in Kabul.

    After Trump blew up the talks at the last moment, the Taliban threatened to keep on fighting - but left the door open for talks in the future.

    Earlier this week, in a special report, the UN said 85 civilians had been killed and more than 370 wounded in violence linked to last month's election.

    The two presidential frontrunners have both already claimed victory despite the count being delayed. 

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    SOURCE: News agencies