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UN: Afghan Civilians Dying At 'Shocking' Level


Security forces and medical workers attend the scene of a deadly bomb attack in Kabul in June.

KABUL -- A total of 1,366 civilians have been killed and 2,446 more were injured in Afghanistan's conflict during the first six months of this year, according to the United Nations.

The latest figures from the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), released in a July 30 report, showed a 27 percent drop in casualties for the first half of 2019 compared to the same period last year, which was a record.

While the UN welcomed the drop, it "continues to regard the level of harm done to civilians as shocking and unacceptable," UNAMA said in a statement.

Afghanistan's bloody toll continued to climb amid a months-long, U.S.-led push to forge a deal with the Taliban to end the nearly 18-year war.

The Taliban controls or contests around half of Afghanistan, more territory than at any time since the U.S.-led invasion in 2001 ousted the group from power.

UNAMA said ground engagements caused the most civilian casualties in the first six months of 2019, causing one-third of the overall total, followed by the use of improvised explosive devices and air strikes.

The Taliban, the Islamic State, and other groups fighting against Afghan government forces caused 52 percent of the casualties, the report said.

Among the 985 documented civilian casualties attributed to militants were government officials, tribal elders, aid workers, religious scholars, and mullahs. Extremists were also behind attacks that caused casualties in places of worship and culture.

Pro-government forces killed 717 people and injured 680, a 31 percent increase on the same period last year.

However, a spokesman for U.S. forces in Afghanistan, USFOR-A, disputed UNAMA's data.

"USFOR-A rejects UNAMA's methods and findings. Sources with limited information and conflicted motives are not always credible," Colonel Sonny Leggett said in a statement.

"We follow the highest standards of accuracy and accountability and always work to avoid harm to civilian noncombatants," Leggett said.

UNAMA said that women continue to be "disproportionately" affected by the war, which caused the deaths of 144 women and injured 286.

Child casualties comprised nearly one-third of the overall civilian casualties, with 327 deaths and 880 injured.

U.S. peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad is expected to return to Qatar in the next week for an eighth round of direct talks with Taliban negotiators.

The United States is aiming to achieve a peace pact that would see foreign forces quit Afghanistan in return for security guarantees by September 1, ahead of the Afghan presidential election that is scheduled toward the end of that month.

Both Washington and the Taliban have said recently that they were making progress toward reaching a peace deal, but the militant group has so far refused to meet directly with the Afghan government, saying it is illegitimate and is a puppet of foreign states.

With reporting by AFP and Reuters
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