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Afghanistan

Civilian deaths in Afghan war hit record high in 2018

An internally displaced family warm themselves inside a shelter at a refugee camp in Kabul, Afghanistan January 30, 2018.
An internally displaced family warm themselves inside a shelter at a refugee camp in Kabul, Afghanistan January 30, 2018. REUTERS/Mohammad Ismail/File Photo

More civilians were killed last year in Afghanistan than during any other year on record, according to a UN report released Saturday. It comes ahead of a fresh round of talks between the US and the Taliban aimed at ending nearly two decades of conflict.

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Civilian deaths jumped by 11 percent from 2017 with nearly 4,000 people killed, including 927 children, and over 7,000 people wounded, according to the UN.

A high number of suicide attacks and bombings that have wreaked havoc across the war-torn country, explains the figures.

The casualties are the consequence of the US-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 in retaliation for the 9/11 attacks.

Nearly two decades on, the US and Taliban are now trying to work together to end the conflict.

US special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad is expected to meet Taliban negotiators on Monday in Qatar.

On the agenda: the uptick in violence of last year, caused by the "deliberate targeting of civilians," by insurgents allied with the Taliban or Islamic State (IS), according to the UN report.

"It is time to put an end to this human misery and tragedy," Tadamichi Yamamoto, the head of the UN mission in Afghanistan, said ahead of the talks.

"The best way to halt the killings and maiming of civilians is to stop the fighting," he said.

Piling on the pressure

An increase in air raids by US and Afghan forces also led to more civilian deaths in 2018, with more than 500 civilians killed by "aerial operations for the first time on record", the report noted.

The United States has intensified its air campaign against Taliban and ISIL fighters as Washington seeks to pile pressure on the armed groups, dropping twice as many munitions on their positions in 2018 compared to the previous year.

Yamamoto said the civilian casualties were "wholly unacceptable" and called on all parties to take "immediate and additional concrete steps to stop a further escalation in the number of civilians harmed and lives destroyed".

The escalating violence comes as the Trump administration withdraws roughly 7,000 US troops from Afghanistan.

The success of the marathon talks in Doha depends on the Taliban being able to guarantee that it can prevent Afghanistan from once again becoming a safe haven for international terror groups.

Critics though are sceptical, primarily because the Afghan government is conspicuously absent from the talks, considered by the Taliban to be US puppets.

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