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Civilian casualties in Afghan war jump in July

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Kabul (AFP)

Civilian casualty rates across Afghanistan jumped back to record levels last month, following a dip earlier in the year, the UN said Saturday.

According to the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, more than 1,500 civilians were killed or wounded in the Afghan conflict in July, the highest monthly toll so far in 2019 and the worst single month since May 2017.

The increase, which was attributed largely to a rise in attacks by the Taliban and other "anti-government" groups, came amid a US-led push for a peace deal that both Washington and the Taliban say is making progress.

"As peace efforts have intensified in recent weeks so too has the conflict on the ground," UNAMA head Tadamichi Yamamoto said in a statement.

"I call on all parties not to ramp up military operations thinking that doing so will give them a stronger position in talks about peace."

A string of high-profile attacks rocked Afghanistan last month, including a July 25 suicide attack on a bus in Kabul that was followed by a secondary explosion targeting first responders. The seven civilian dead included six women and a three-year-old boy.

No group claimed responsibility, but Afghan and US officials have blamed the Taliban.

On July 28, suicide bombers and gunmen stormed the Kabul office of Amrullah Saleh, President Ashraf Ghani's running-mate for upcoming elections, killing at least 20 people.

UNAMA published a report Tuesday showing a 27 percent drop in casualties for the first half of 2019 compared to the same period last year -- which was a record -- but nonetheless, 1,366 civilians were killed and another 2,446 injured.

In that report, UNAMA criticised "pro-government" forces, including the US military, noting that for the second quarter running, these forces caused more civilian deaths than the Taliban and other insurgent groups.

The Afghan military, the Taliban and the US have all attacked UNAMA's findings.

The agency defended its methodology and labelled such criticism "tendentious", while calling on all parties to work constructively with the UN.

An earlier UN tally found that last year was the deadliest on record, with at least 3,804 civilian deaths caused by the war -- including 927 children.

A new round of peace talks between the US and the Taliban is expected to take place in Doha this weekend, with momentum for some sort of an agreement believed to be building.

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