Afghan civilian deaths and wounded almost four thousand in six months

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At least 3,812 Afghan civilians were killed or wounded in the first half of 2019 in the war against militant groups, including an increase in casualties caused by government and NATO-led troops, the United Nations said.

The latest casualty figures were released as talks between the Taliban and US officials to end the 18-year Afghan war entered an important stage, with US negotiators aiming to reach a peace deal before September 1.

The war rages on despite diplomatic efforts, forcing civilians to live under constant threat of targeting by militants, caught up in ground fighting or becoming inadvertent victims of air strikes by Afghan government and NATO-led forces.

The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) said in its latest report ground raids and clashes caused most civilian casualties, followed by bomb attacks and air strikes.

Taliban and Islamic State fighters killed 531 Afghans and wounded 1,437 between January 1 and June 30. Hard-line Islamist groups deliberately targeted 985 civilians, including government officials, tribal elders, aid workers and religious scholars, UNAMA said in its report.

It said pro-government forces killed 717 Afghans and wounded 680 in the six months, a 31% increase from the corresponding period in 2018.

At least 144 women and 327 children were killed and more than 1,000 wounded across the country.

Air strikes caused 519 civilian casualties with 150 children.

“Parties to the conflict may give differing explanations for recent trends, each designed to justify their own military tactics,” UNAMA human rights chief Richard Bennett said.

“The fact remains only a determined effort to avoid civilian harm, not just by abiding by international humanitarian law but also by reducing intensity of fighting, will decrease the suffering of civilian Afghans,” he said.

US and NATO troops in Afghanistan are part of a mission to train, assist and advise Afghan forces and carry out counter-terrorism operations.

Colonel Sonny Leggett, a spokesman for US forces in Afghanistan, rejected UNASMA methods and findings, saying collection of evidence by US forces was “more thorough, evidentiary and accurate”.

Leggett did not give any US military figures for civilian casualties saying US forces worked closely with Afghan security forces to prevent them.

“We follow the highest standards of accuracy and accountability and always work to avoid harm to civilian non-combatants,” Leggett said.

The United States is trying to negotiate a deal under which foreign forces would pull out in return for security guarantees by the Taliban, including a pledge that the country will not become a safe haven for terror groups.

The Taliban control or contest half the country, more than at any time since being overthrown by US-led Afghan forces in late 2001, but they reject calls for a ceasefire until all foreign forces leave Afghanistan.