A record number of civilians — including the highest ever number of children — were killed in Afghanistan last year, the United Nations said Sunday.
The report from the U.N. Assistance Mission to Afghanistan said that 3,804 civilians were killed in 2018, including 927 children. That’s the highest either count had reached since systematic record-keeping began in 2009, and reflected an 11 percent increase in total civilian war deaths since 2017.
“The conflict in Afghanistan continues to kill far too many civilians and has caused long-lasting suffering, both physical and psychological, to countless others,” U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said in a statement.
“The fact that the number of children killed this year is the highest on record is particularly shocking.”
The report pointed to a steep rise in ISIS attacks targeting civilians, and a ramp up in airstrikes by the U.S.-led coalition, as factors for the rising toll.
It said insurgents were responsible for about two-thirds of the civilian deaths and injuries, with the Taliban responsible for 37 percent, and ISIS’s Afghan affiliate responsible for 20 percent. In particular, the number of civilian casualties from ISIS attacks had more than doubled from 843 in 2017 to 1,871 in 2018, with most targeting the Shia minority.
The Afghan government and its NATO allies were responsible for about a quarter of the civilian casualties. The report said 536 civilians were killed by airstrikes last year, an 82 percent increase from the previous year.
The U.S. military says it carried out 6,823 airstrikes in Afghanistan last year, the highest figure in six years.
“The level of harm and suffering inflicted on civilians in Afghanistan is deeply disturbing,” said Tadamichi Yamamoto, U.N. special representative for Afghanistan. “It is time to put an end to this human misery.”
The escalation in violence has come as both the Taliban and pro-government forces push to gain a stronger position on the battlefield to strengthen their hand in negotiations to end the U.S.’s longest running war.
The U.S. and Taliban negotiators met in Doha Monday for another round of talks on a peace deal, having agreed in principle on a framework for the agreement last month. That deal involved the withdrawal of U.S. forces in return for an undertaking that Afghan soil wouldn’t be used by international terrorist groups.
The presence of Taliban deputy leader Abdul Ghani Baradar in Doha has fueled optimism about the prospects for the talks. But major obstacles remain — including resolving the scope of the proposed U.S. withdrawal, the timings of the ceasefire relative to the withdrawal, and the sidelining of the Afghan government from the process. The Taliban has refused to engage in formal talks with the government, insisting it is a illegitimate puppet of the West.
Cover image: Afghan residents walk near destroyed houses after a Taliban attack in Ghazni on August 16, 2018. (ZAKERIA HASHIMI/AFP/Getty Images)