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Civilian casualties hit new high in Afghanistan

Afghan bystanders cover the body of a civilian after an attacker detonated a truck bomb targeting police headquarters in Lashkar Gah, Afghanistan, on June 30.

Afghan bystanders cover the body of a civilian after an attacker detonated a truck bomb targeting police headquarters in Lashkar Gah, Afghanistan, on June 30.

(Abdul Malik Watanyar / AFP/Getty Images)

Civilian casualties in Afghanistan have reached their highest level since the United Nations began keeping detailed records six years ago, the international agency reported Wednesday.

While the number of deaths during the first six months of the year declined slightly from the same period last year, the number of injured rose and overall casualties hit a peak of 4,921, a rise of 1% from 2014, the U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) said.

“The thousands of civilians killed and injured from conflict-related violence in the first six months of 2015 demonstrate the continued failure of parties to the conflict to protect civilians from harm,” the agency said in its midyear report.

The increase in violence took a disproportionate toll on women and children, with the number of deaths increasing by 23% and 13%, respectively.

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“The cold statistics of civilian casualties do not adequately capture the horror of violence in Afghanistan, the torn bodies of children, mothers and daughters, sons and fathers,” Nicholas Haysom, the U.N. special representative in Afghanistan, was quoted as saying. “The statistics in this report do not reveal the grieving families and the loss of shocked communities of ordinary Afghans. These are the real consequences of the conflict in Afghanistan.”

The leading cause of death continued to be ground engagements between forces loyal to the Afghan government and the armed opposition, including the Taliban. Those engagements, which have seen members of the Afghan National Security Forces take the lead as a result of the withdrawal of foreign forces from the country, resulted in 379 deaths and 1,198 injuries.

Though still the leading cause, casualties from ground engagements were down 19% from the same period last year. The U.N. said the figures might have been higher in 2014 because of violence associated with Afghanistan’s national election.

Anti-government forces, including the Taliban, were the cause of 70% of casualties from Jan. 1 to June 30 this year. That was down 3% from the year before.

Deaths and injuries from improvised explosive devices declined significantly, but casualties from suicide and “complex” attacks (which also involve other explosive devices) carried out by anti-government forces rose by 78%.

The armed opposition is not solely responsible for deaths and injuries, the report noted. Casualties inflicted by pro-government forces increased by 60% and amounted to 16% of the total.

That increase, the report said, is due in large part to the use of indirect weapons, including mortars.

“UNAMA recommends that a national policy directing measures to mitigate civilian casualties be implemented at the earliest opportunity,” said Danielle Bell, director of the agency’s human rights unit.

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Latifi is a special correspondent.

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