UN reports 'unprecedented' Afghan civilian casualties in July-September



Wounded men receive treatment at a hospital following a bomb blast in Kandahar Province on September 28. The UN recorded 8,239 civilian casualties in total in the first nine months of 2019. [Javed Tanveer/AFP]

KABUL -- An "unprecedented" number of civilians were killed or wounded in Afghanistan from July to September this year, the United Nations (UN) said in a new report released Thursday (October 17), calling the violence "totally unacceptable".

The report, which also charts violence throughout 2019 so far, underscores how "Afghans have been exposed to extreme levels of violence for many years" despite promises by all sides to "prevent and mitigate harm to civilians".

It also noted the absurdity of the ever-increasing price paid by civilians given the widespread belief that the war in Afghanistan cannot be won by either side.

"Civilian casualties are totally unacceptable," said the UN's special representative in Afghanistan, Tadamichi Yamamoto, adding they demonstrate the importance of talks leading to a ceasefire and a permanent political settlement.

"The impact of Afghanistan's conflict on civilians is appalling," said Fiona Frazer, the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) human rights chief.

The figures -- 1,174 deaths and 3,139 injured from July 1 until September 30 -- represent a 42% increase over the same period last year.

Violence surged

The UN laid most of the blame for the spike at the feet of "anti-government elements" such as the Taliban.

July alone saw more casualties than in any other month on record since UNAMA began documenting the violence in 2009.

The first six months of 2019 had seen casualties drop slightly compared to previous years.

But the violence has surged so far in the third quarter that it yanked the overall total for the year back on par with the bloodiest since NATO withdrew its combat forces at the end of 2014.

The UN recorded 8,239 civilian casualties in total in the first nine months of 2019 -- 2,563 killed and 5,676 injured -- with the majority caused by suicide attacks or improvised explosive devices (IEDs).

Some 41% of them were women and children, UNAMA said.

Taliban violence was the reason cited by the US administration in September for abruptly calling off negotiations that were expected to pave the way for a wider peace in Afghanistan.

The talks, held mainly in Doha starting in September 2018, had led to a draft agreement that would have seen the United States 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 insurgents and the government in Kabul.

After the US administration halted the talks, the Taliban threatened to keep on fighting -- but left the door open for talks in the future.

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