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October 16, 2019
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UN says more civilians killed by Afghan, US forces than Taliban

KABUL: The United Nations said that pro-government forces, including Nato allies, killed more civilians in Afghanistan in the first half of 2019 than insurgents.

The UN figures of civilian casualties from January to June come amid a ferocious US air campaign against the Taliban.

Some 717 civilians were killed by Afghan and Nato-led forces, compared to 531 by militants, the UN said.

The latest data has been revealed as Washington and the Taliban continue negotiations over US troop withdrawals.

Airstrikes mostly carried out by American warplanes, killed 363 people, including 89 children, in the first six months of the year, according to the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (Unama).

The US military has rejected Unama’s findings, saying its own collection of evidence was more accurate and that its forces in Afghanistan “always work to avoid harm to civilian non-combatants”. But it did not give its own figures for civilian casualties.

It comes after a report by the UN in April, which reached a similar conclusion for the first three months of 2019. The latest data shows that this unprecedented trend is continuing.

Ground engagements remained the leading cause of civilian casualties overall, accounting for one-third of the total, followed by improvised explosive bombings and aerial operations.

However, the UN says that total civilian casualties are down. There were 3,812 deaths and injuries in the first six months of 2019, the lowest total for the first half of a year since 2012.

Despite the decrease in casualties, the toll on civilians remains “shocking and unacceptable,” Unama said. It documented 985 civilian casualties (deaths and injuries) from insurgent attacks that had deliberately targeted civilians from 1 January to 30 June.

“Parties to the conflict may give differing explanations for recent trends, each designed to justify their own military tactics,” said Richard Bennett, Unama’s head of human rights.

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

Patricia Gossman, associate Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said civilians were paying a “terrible price” as a result of air strikes and night raids that appeared meant to pressure the Taliban in negotiations.