UN says Afghan forces, allies killed most civilians in 2019

Afghan Afghanistan
Afghan security personnel secure the site of an attack in Kabul, Afghanistan, Sunday, July 28, 2019. Afghan officials say the political offices of the president's running mate were hit by a large explosion and stormed by an unknown number of attackers. Nasrat Rahimi, the interior ministry spokesman, said vice-presidential candidate and former intelligence chief Amrullah Saleh survived the attack. (Rahmat Gul/AP photo)

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — More civilians were killed by Afghan and international coalition forces in Afghanistan than by the Taliban and other militants in the first half of 2019, the U.N. mission said in a report released Tuesday.

The report apparently refers to civilians killed during Afghan and U.S. military operations against insurgents, such as airstrikes and night raids on militant hideouts. Insurgents often hide among civilians. The U.S. formally ended its combat mission in Afghanistan in 2014 but still provides extensive air and other support to local forces battling militants.

The report by the U.N. mission in Afghanistan said 403 civilians were killed by Afghan forces in the first six months of the year and another 314 by international forces, a total of 717. That’s compared to 531 killed by the Taliban, an Islamic State affiliate and other militants during the same period.

It said 300 of those killed by militants were directly targeted. The Taliban have been carrying out near-daily attacks, mainly targeting security forces.

There was no immediate comment from the Kabul government or the Afghan military on the U.N. report.

NATO said the alliance is “not complacent” and shares U.N. concerns over Afghan civilian casualties, stressing that the “best way to end the suffering of civilians is to focus on the political settlement of the conflict and to continue all efforts to reduce violence.”

“Our forces on the ground continue to respect the highest operational standards,” said Daniele Riggio, press officer at the alliance headquarters in Brussels. “We thoroughly investigate every allegation of civilian casualties, and we train the Afghan security forces to ensure that they take utmost caution in order not to harm civilians.”

The Taliban have rejected calls for a cease-fire as they hold talks with the United States aimed at ending the 18-year war. An Islamic State affiliate has meanwhile launched attacks targeting security forces as well as minority Shiites.

“Parties to the conflict may give differing explanations for recent trends, each designed to justify their own military tactics,” said Richard Bennett, the human rights chief of the U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, which released the report.

The situation for ordinary Afghans would be improved, he said, “not just by abiding by international humanitarian law but also by reducing the intensity of the fighting.”

The report said civilian deaths and injuries were down by a quarter from January to June 2019 compared with the same time last year, when casualties were at an all-time high. Civilian casualties attributed to insurgents dropped by 43%.

The report said one in three casualties was caused by ground combat and a fifth were caused by roadside bombs. Aerial operations accounted for around 14% of the casualties.

Meanwhile, a Taliban statement on Tuesday praised the killing of two U.S. service members the previous day in southern Kandahar province. The Afghan soldier who turned his gun on the Americans was wounded and is in custody, according to U.S. officials.

The Taliban called the shooter a “hero” and said the Afghan soldier had opened fire at the Americans inside a military base in the Shah Wali Kot district in Kandahar. The U.S. military has so far not identified the slain Americans, pending notification of their families.

Even with the Taliban-U.S. talks underway, there appears to be no end in sight for the violence.

A suicide bomber on a motorcycle detonated his explosives at a market in southern Kandahar province on Tuesday morning, killing at least three children, said Jamal Naser Barekzai, spokesman for the provincial police chief. He said 23 civilians, including eight children, were wounded in the attack in the Spin Bolduk district near the border with Pakistan.

Also Tuesday, a Taliban attack on a checkpoint left three police officers dead in northern Baghlan province, said Jawed Basharat, spokesman for the provincial police chief. He said air support was called in following the attack on the outskirts of the provincial capital, Puli Khumri, and that around 50 Taliban insurgents were killed.

Late on Monday, insurgents targeted a checkpoint in the Kushk Kuhna district in western Herat province, killing at least 11 Afghan security forces, said Wakil Ahmad Karokhi, a provincial councilman.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the three latest attacks.

There has also been no claim of responsibility for an attack Sunday night that apparently targeted the office of the Afghan president’s running mate and former chief of the intelligence service.

The VP candidate, Amrullah Saleh, was safely evacuated from the scene of the attack, which left at least 20 people dead and about 50 wounded. Saleh is known for his fierce anti-Taliban stance.

Reporting by Rahim Faiez; additional reporting from Amir Shah in Kabul and Maamoun Youssef in Cairo

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