KABUL — Civilian casualties from the conflict in Afghanistan remained at “record high levels” in the first half of the year, according to a report the United Nations released Wednesday. The report said 1,592 civilians were killed and 3,329 injured between January and June.
The figures were slightly higher than in the first half of last year and higher than in any similar period since 2009, the report said. About 70 percent of the deaths and injuries were caused by anti-government forces, mainly the Taliban, but the report noted “with concern” that there was a 60 percent increase in casualties caused by pro-government forces.
The report comes after a string of deadly attacks by Taliban fighters, both in their traditional southern strongholds, such as Helmand province, and along new fronts, such as northern Kunduz province. Kunduz, where the Taliban launched two offensives, registered the highest number of civilian casualties from ground combat of any province.
“Afghan civilians have suffered far too long from this destructive conflict. The devastating consequences of this violence against civilians as documented in this report should serve to strengthen the broad conviction that peace is urgently needed,” said Nicholas Haysom, head of the U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan.
“Until peace is achieved, all parties to the conflict must fulfill their obligations under international humanitarian law to minimize the impact of the conflict on civilians and match their public statements on the protection of civilians with concrete actions,” said Haysom, who is also the U.N. secretary general’s special representative for Afghanistan.
The report noted that both Taliban and government officials had pledged to protect civilian lives in the conflict, but it said that the high casualty figures demonstrated “the continued failure of parties to the conflict to protect civilians from harm.”
With virtually all international combat troops withdrawn by the end of last year, the report said, Afghan police and army forces were at the forefront of the conflict. Most of the injuries and deaths inflicted by them were the result of indirect fire, especially the use of mortars, during combat in populated areas. The report said such weapons “continued to take a heavy toll on the civilian population.”
On June 5, for example, Afghan National Army forces fired about 10 mortar rounds near Ghazni city. At least one struck a house where a wedding party was underway. Eight boys were killed and 10 people were injured. According to the U.N. report, army officials denied causing the casualties and blamed the incident on an explosive device.
Overall, the dominant cause of civilian casualties was ground combat, which killed 379 people and injured 1,198. This was followed by explosive devices, suicide blasts and other attacks involving multiple forms of weapons, and targeted killings of individuals.
The report studied more than 2,000 conflict-related incidents and provided detailed accounts and witness testimony involving dozens of them, including a suicide bombing on April 18 outside a bank in the city of Jalalabad that killed 35 people and injured 125 — the deadliest single incident in Afghanistan since 2012. The government blamed the attack on the Islamic State militant group, which has been stepping up activities in the country.
A suicide attack in January at a crowded funeral in Laghman province killed 12 civilians and wounded 29.
A witness told U.N. investigators that about 250 mourners had gathered in a graveyard when the explosion occurred. “I saw corpses and body parts all around,” the witness said. “Some of the injured had their flesh just hanging off their bodies and they were shouting for help.”
The report noted that there had been an increase in the number of deaths and injuries among women, which it attributed to an uptick in attacks on civilian population areas. The number of female casualties rose 23 percent, and child casualties rose 13 percent.
On a positive note, the report found a 21 percent decrease in the number of casualties from remote-controlled explosive devices. On the other hand, it documented a 38 percent increase in casualties from pressure-plate explosives, which are illegal in Afghanistan. These devices killed 251 people and injured 255.
Targeted attacks on civilians increased 57 percent from the same period last year, with 400 people — including aid workers, tribal elders, civilian officials and clerics — killed. The Taliban asserted responsibility for 96 such attacks, more than double the number in the previous period. Among the attack which the Taliban said it caused was a suicide blast at the Afghan parliament on June 22.
The report noted a “sharp increase” in attacks on judicial officials after the Taliban announced a special spring offensive against government “stooges” and “pernicious individuals.” On May 19, a man and his father were leaving their jobs at the Justice Ministry when a vehicle exploded at the gate. The son eventually found his father’s burned body in a hospital.