Afghan civilian casualties jump as fighting spreads
Afghan civilians watch as soldiers from the Afghan National Army (ANA) patrol the side of a road during an operation in Khogyani District, on March 19, 2014 - by Roberto Schmidt
Ground combat is now causing more deaths and injuries than improvised explosive devices (IEDs) in a worrying sign of spreading conflict, the UN report said, adding that women and children were increasingly caught in the crossfire.
The rapid increase in civilian casualties underlines the fragile security situation that Afghanistan faces as it wrestles with political turmoil over the disputed presidential election.
One candidate, Abdullah Abdullah, has refused to accept the result due to alleged fraud, and fears are growing of ethnic tension and the risk of clashes between rival supporters reviving the divisions of the 1992-1996 civil war.
"The nature of the conflict in Afghanistan is changing in 2014 with an escalation of ground engagements in civilian-populated areas," warned Jan Kubis, the United Nations mission chief in Afghanistan.
"The impact on civilians, including the most vulnerable Afghans, is proving to be devastating."
In the first six months of this year, UNAMA documented 4,853 civilian casualties -- up 24 percent over the same period in 2013.
The toll included 1,564 deaths and 3,289 injuries, with ground engagements causing two out of every five civilian casualties in 2014.
Recent weeks have seen fierce fighting in the southern province of Helmand, as the Afghan army and police counter-attack after an offensive by 800 Taliban fighters in an area from which US troops withdrew only in May.
As NATO troops pull out, the coming months are expected to be a test of the fledgling Afghan government forces, who have been trained by the US-led military coalition since the Taliban were ousted in 2001.
"The fight is increasingly taking place in communities, public places and near the homes of ordinary Afghans, with death and injury to women and children in a continued disturbing upward spiral," said Georgette Gagnon, director of human rights for UNAMA.
"More efforts are needed to protect civilians from the harms of conflict and to ensure accountability for those deliberately and indiscriminately killing them."
- Soaring violence -
Departing NATO forces and the Afghan government have been keen to claim improving security in some areas and stress that the national police and army are increasingly effective.
But the UN report provided more stark evidence of mushrooming violence in Afghanistan 13 years after the US-led offensive that ended of the harsh rule of the Taliban regime.
In May, a major International Crisis Group (ICG) report said that the troop withdrawal had coincided with renewed tribal feuds, government forces fighting each other and mistreatment of locals by Afghan soldiers and police.
The ICG concluded that "the overall trend is one of escalating violence and insurgent attacks", with insurgents now able to mass in larger numbers and trying to capture rural territory and district administration centres.
The UNAMA report said eight percent of civilian casualties were caused by Afghan security forces and one percent by the NATO coalition.
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