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UN Says Afghan Civilian Casualties Are Rising

Afghan policemen inspect the site of a bomb explosion in Jalalabad on December 17.

The United Nations says the number of civilians killed or wounded in fighting in Afghanistan jumped 22 percent last year to reach the highest level in five years.

In an annual report released on February 18, the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) said it documented 10,548 civilian casualties in 2014, compared with 8,637 the previous year.

A total of 3,699 Afghans killed and 6,849 injured made 2014 the deadliest year since the UN began keeping records in 2009.

The figures also showed that for the first time more people were killed in battles between the Taliban and government forces than by roadside bombs.

Fighting between government forces and the Taliban accounted for just over a third of civilian casualties, while roadside bombs were responsible for 28 percent of civilian deaths and injuries.

The UN figures also showed the highest recorded losses for the Afghan Army and police with nearly 5,000 killed in 2014.

The report said the Taliban and other militants were responsible for 72 percent of all civilian casualties, with Afghan government forces blamed for 12 percent of civilian deaths and foreign troops responsible for 2 percent.

It said responsibility for about 10 percent of civilian deaths could not be confirmed, and about 3 percent of civilian casualties were caused by "unattributed explosive remnants of war" -- the detonation of ammunition left in the field after battles.

The UN said about 1 percent of civilian casualties were the result of cross-border shelling from Pakistan into Afghanistan.

The Taliban have in the past denied that they are responsible for the majority of civilian casualties, describing the UN as biased.

The report attributed the rise in casualties to increased ground fighting, in which weapons like mortars and rockets are used in populated areas.

U.S. and NATO forces formally ended their combat mission at the end of 2014, with Afghan troops taking charge of the country's security.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has said 2015 has brought "no reprieve to civilians suffering the effects of intensifying armed conflict" in Afghanistan.

In a February 9 statement, the ICRC said the Afghan population continues to face "countless hardships, including large-scale indiscriminate attacks and increasing difficulties reaching health care."

"With no end in sight to the violence, there are fears that conditions could get even worse this year," it adds, resulting in rising humanitarian needs.

The Red Cross said civilians were frequently caught up in the fighting but that 2014 saw an 18 percent decline in patients accessing medical services due to the worsening security situation.

With reporting by AP and AFP