KABUL -- The United Nations (UN) Monday (July 26) warned that Afghanistan could see the highest number of civilian deaths in more than a decade if the Taliban's offensives across the country are not halted.
Violence has surged since early May when insurgents cranked up operations to coincide with the withdrawal of US-led foreign forces.
In a report released on Monday documenting civilian casualties for the first half of 2021, the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) said it expected figures to touch their highest single-year levels since the mission began reporting over a decade ago.
"Unprecedented numbers of Afghan civilians will perish and be maimed this year if the increasing violence is not stemmed," UNAMA head Deborah Lyons said in a statement released with the report.
"I implore the Taliban and Afghan leaders to take heed to the conflict's grim and chilling trajectory and its devastating impact on civilians."
During the first six months of 2021, some 1,659 civilians were killed and another 3,254 wounded, the UNAMA report said -- a 47% increase compared to the same period last year.
The rise in civilian casualties was particularly sharp in May and June -- the initial period of the Taliban's current offensives -- with 783 civilians killed and 1,609 wounded, it added.
Women and children suffer
"Particularly shocking and of deep concern is that women, boys and girls made up close to half of all civilian casualties," the report said.
In a statement, the Taliban rejected the UN report, denying that it "deliberately killed civilians anywhere".
Last week, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said there was "growing evidence" that the Taliban were committing atrocities against civilians in areas they had captured -- including in Spin Boldak, the town near the border with Pakistan they took earlier this month.
About 400 residents had been "taken out of their houses" in Spin Boldak by the Taliban in recent days, and 100 of them have been killed, said Afghan security forces spokesman Ajmal Omar Shinwari.
He did not offer details on the fate of the remaining 300.
"Taliban leaders have denied responsibility for any abuses, but growing evidence of expulsions, arbitrary detentions, and killings in areas under their control are [sic] raising fears among the population," Patricia Gossman, associate Asia director at HRW, said Friday.