Taliban, ISIS step up 'deliberate targeting' of civilians as deaths hit record high
KABUL -- More civilians were killed in the Afghan war in 2018 than during any other year on record after amost two decades of fighting, according to a United Nations (UN) report released Sunday (February 24).
The uptick in violence in 2018 coincides with a significant increase in the number of deaths caused by the "deliberate targeting of civilians", according to the report, mostly stemming from suicide attacks by insurgents allied with the Taliban or "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS).
Civilian deaths jumped by 11% from 2017 with 3,804 people killed and another 7,189 wounded, according to the UN figures, as suicide attacks and bombings wreaked havoc across the country.
The report's release comes a day before the United States and the Taliban hold their next round of talks aimed at ending the conflict, raising tentative hopes for peace.
At least 32,000 civilians have been killed and another 60,000 wounded over the past decade since the organisation began compiling the data, according to the UN.
"It is time to put an end to this human misery and tragedy," said Tadamichi Yamamoto, head of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA).
"The best way to halt the killings and maiming of civilians is to stop the fighting," he said.
At least 65 suicide attacks were recorded in 2018 -- the majority hitting Kabul -- with militants responsible for the deaths of more than 2,200 civilians across the country.
An increase in air strikes against Taliban and ISIS fighters by coalition and Afghan forces also led to more civilian deaths in 2018, with more than 500 civilians killed by "aerial operations for the first time on record", the report said.
"The report is being evaluated by this organisation," the Afghan National Security Council said in a statement Sunday (February 24). "The Afghan National Defence and Security Forces (ANDSF) take the necessary precautions to prevent civilian casualties in all military operations, and the issue has always been emphasised and followed up."
The civilian casualties were "wholly unacceptable", said Yamamoto, who called on all parties to take "immediate and additional concrete steps to stop a further escalation in the number of civilians harmed and lives destroyed".
Afghanistan has suffered almost constant conflict since the Soviet occupation of 1979, which was followed by civil war, the Taliban regime and the US invasion in late 2001.