Between July and September, 1,174 civilians were killed and 3,139 were wounded. Those figures bring total civilian casualties (both dead and injured) this year to more than 8,000, according to counts by the U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan. In the previous quarter, 785 civilians were killed and 1,254 were wounded.
Both the Taliban and the U.S.-backed Afghan military have stepped up operations in recent months. Before President Trump scuttled the talks in early September, both sides were fighting to gain leverage ahead of a deal.
Tadamichi Yamamoto, the U.N. secretary general’s special representative for Afghanistan, said the high number of civilian casualties is “unacceptable, especially in the context of the widespread recognition that there can be no military solution to the conflict in Afghanistan.”
Overall, the United Nations blamed Taliban attacks for the most civilian casualties this year, because of an increased use of suicide bombs and other explosives. Such attacks have killed 647 and wounded 2,796 since January, the study found.
Women and children have made up 41 percent of all civilian casualties this year, according to the United Nations. The report said violence in Afghanistan has killed 631 children in the first nine months of this year and injured 1,830.
The United Nations warned that “indiscriminate and disproportionate” Taliban attacks using explosives “are serious violations of international humanitarian law that may amount to war crimes.” One such high-profile Taliban-claimed attack on Sept. 19 killed 28 civilians and injured 130 in Zabul province when a truck bomb detonated near an intelligence headquarters and a provincial hospital.
The increase in Taliban attacks marks a shift since July. The United Nations reported that during the first half of 2019, Afghan government forces and their U.S.-led allies were responsible for more civilian deaths than the Taliban.
Afghan and U.S. airstrikes and search operations continue to be deadly for civilians: They have killed 784 and wounded 377 this year, more than in the first nine months of any year since the United Nations began recording civilian casualties in 2009. Since 2018, “international military forces” have been responsible for the majority of civilian casualties caused by aerial operations.
The United States is the only member of the coalition in Afghanistan that carries out airstrikes, apart from the Afghan government.
The United States has significantly ramped up its air campaign in Afghanistan against the Taliban and the Islamic State. In September, U.S. aircraft dropped more munitions than in any other month since October 2010. U.S. Air Forces Central Command said its planes released 948 weapons last month, a figure that does not include airstrikes by the Afghan air force.
The report details two U.S. airstrikes that caused substantial civilian casualties in the past three months, including one in Helmand province on Sept. 22 that killed 15 civilians and one in Nangahar province that killed 19.
Regarding the Nangahar strike, the United Nations said that “shortly after the incident, [U.S. forces] paid compensation to the families of eight of the individuals killed, acknowledging they were civilian.”
The Afghan presidential election on Sept. 28 was also associated with a spike in violence. The United Nations released a separate report this week that said election-related violence killed 85 civilians and wounded 373.
The bulk of the election-related casualties were caused by Taliban operations, including mortar attacks and improvised explosives, that had “indiscriminate effects” in civilian areas. The Taliban had pledged to use violence to disrupt the election that it viewed as illegitimate.
The Afghan government, in its response, said it “notes with concern” the increase in civilian casualties. Protecting civilians “is the government’s constitutional duty and remains a top priority,” it said.
“Faced with an enemy that relentlessly targets civilians, we are taking concrete steps to protect civilians from enemy attacks [and] reduce civilian casualties during combat,” Afghanistan’s National Security Council said in a statement.
The Afghan air force is also taking steps to reduce civilian casualties by instituting “new and stronger measures on targeting, reconnaissance and post attack assessment,” according to the statement.
The conflict in Afghanistan has resulted in steady levels of violence since 2014, when the United States began reducing its forces in the country. The United Nations began recording civilian deaths only in 2009 as the conflict intensified.
During the first half of the year, the United Nations had reported a slight drop in civilian casualties. That reduction was largely a result of the decreased use of suicide bombs and other explosives by the Taliban and other militant groups.
Afghan government forces backed by the United States have retaken a handful of districts from the Taliban in recent months, but the gains have come at a high cost to civilians and pro-government fighters.
Afghan officials do not release figures on their military casualties, but President Ashraf Ghani said last year that 40,000 members of the Afghan forces had been killed since he took office in 2014, and his national security adviser said earlier this year that about 50 troops were dying daily.