Afghanistan faces 'unprecedented' number of civilian deaths from Taliban attacks, UN warns

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Afghanistan faces an ‘unprecedented’ number of civilians deaths from the Taliban offensive, the UN has warned. 

It comes as the US military said it would continue to support Afghan government forces with airstrikes as it prepares to completely withdraw from the country by August 31.  

Violence has surged since early May when the Taliban cranked up operations to coincide with a final withdrawal of US-led foreign forces.

The Taliban’s ongoing assault has seen the insurgents capture half of Afghanistan’s districts and border crossings as well as encircle several provincial capitals, with most of the fighting in the countryside.   

Afghanistan faces an 'unprecedented' number of civilians deaths from fighting between the Taliban and Afghan army (pictured at Torkham, near the Afghan-Pakistan border)

Afghanistan faces an ‘unprecedented’ number of civilians deaths from fighting between the Taliban and Afghan army (pictured at Torkham, near the Afghan-Pakistan border)

It comes as the US military said it would continue to support Afghan government forces with airstrikes (pictured a F-35B Lightning II aircraft launched from assault ship USS Essex for a mission in Afghanistan) as it prepares to completely withdraw from the country by August 31

It comes as the US military said it would continue to support Afghan government forces with airstrikes (pictured a F-35B Lightning II aircraft launched from assault ship USS Essex for a mission in Afghanistan) as it prepares to completely withdraw from the country by August 31

The United Nations warned on Monday that Afghanistan could see the highest number of civilian deaths in more than a decade if the Taliban's offensives across the country are not halted

The United Nations warned on Monday that Afghanistan could see the highest number of civilian deaths in more than a decade if the Taliban’s offensives across the country are not halted

The Taliban has launched a sweeping offensive across Afghanistan following the US drawdown ahead of a complete withdrawal by August 31

The Taliban has launched a sweeping offensive across Afghanistan following the US drawdown ahead of a complete withdrawal by August 31 

The United Nations warned on Monday that Afghanistan could see the highest number of civilian deaths in more than a decade if the Taliban’s offensives across the country are not halted.

In a report released Monday documenting civilian casualties for the first half of 2021, the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) said it expected figures to touch their highest single-year levels since the mission began reporting over a decade ago.

It also warned that Afghan troops and pro-government forces were responsible for a quarter of all civilian casualties.

‘Unprecedented numbers of Afghan civilians will perish and be maimed this year if the increasing violence is not stemmed,’ UNAMA head Deborah Lyons said in a statement released with the report.

‘I implore the Taliban and Afghan leaders to take heed to the conflict’s grim and chilling trajectory and its devastating impact on civilians.’

During the first half of 2021, some 1,659 civilians were killed and another 3,254 wounded – a 47 percent increase compared with the same period last year, the UNAMA report said.

The rise in civilian casualties was particularly sharp in May and June – the initial period of the Taliban’s current offensives – with 783 civilians killed and 1,609 wounded, it added.

‘Particularly shocking and of deep concern is that women, boys and girls made up of close to half of all civilian casualties,’ the report said.

The rise in civilian casualties was particularly sharp in May and June - the initial period of the Taliban's current offensives - with 783 civilians killed and 1,609 wounded, the UN said

The rise in civilian casualties was particularly sharp in May and June – the initial period of the Taliban’s current offensives – with 783 civilians killed and 1,609 wounded, the UN said

The Taliban's ongoing assault has seen the insurgents capture half of Afghanistan's districts and border crossings (pictured, Taliban fighters capture the Pakistan-Afghanistan border crossing at Chaman on July 14) as well as encircle several provincial capitals, with most of the fighting in the countryside

The Taliban’s ongoing assault has seen the insurgents capture half of Afghanistan’s districts and border crossings (pictured, Taliban fighters capture the Pakistan-Afghanistan border crossing at Chaman on July 14) as well as encircle several provincial capitals, with most of the fighting in the countryside 

UNAMA blamed anti-government elements for 64 per cent of civilian casualties – including some 40 per cent caused by the Taliban and nearly nine percent by the jihadist Islamic State group.

About 16 percent of casualties were caused by ‘undetermined’ anti-government elements. But Afghan troops and pro-government forces were responsible for 25 percent, it said.

UNAMA said about 11 percent of casualties were caused by ‘crossfire’ and the responsible parties could not be determined.

UNAMA also noted a resurgence of sectarian attacks against the country’s Shiite Hazara community, resulting in 143 deaths.

It comes as the US military said it was prepared to continue supporting the Afghan army with air strikes during its withdrawal. 

Marine General Kenneth McKenzie said in a press conference on Sunday: ‘The United States has increased air strikes in support of Afghan forces over the last several days and we’re prepared to continue this heightened level of support in the coming weeks if the Taliban continue their attacks’.

Mckenzie refused to say whether air support would continue after the pullout out is completed on August 31. 

Instead, he said: ‘The government of Afghanistan faces a stern test in the days ahead. The Taliban are attempting to create a sense of inevitability about their campaign. They’re wrong.’

It comes as US Marine General Kenneth McKenzie said the US military prepared to continue supporting the Afghan army with air strikes during its withdrawal

It comes as US Marine General Kenneth McKenzie said the US military prepared to continue supporting the Afghan army with air strikes during its withdrawal

The UN warned Afghan troops and pro-government forces were responsible for a quarter of all civilian casualties, which totaled 1,659 in the first half of 2021

The UN warned Afghan troops and pro-government forces were responsible for a quarter of all civilian casualties, which totaled 1,659 in the first half of 2021

There are fears the country could descend into civil war after tens of thousands were killed and at least 22,000 families displaced in fighting

There are fears the country could descend into civil war after tens of thousands were killed and at least 22,000 families displaced in fighting

There are fears the country could descend into civil war after tens of thousands were killed and at least 22,000 families displaced in fighting. 

Fighting continued on the outskirts of Kandahar city on Sunday. 

Resident Hafiz Mohammad Akbar said his house had been taken over by the Taliban after he fled. 

‘They forced us to leave … I am now living with my 20-member family in a compound with no toilet,’ said Akbar.

‘They have all moved from the volatile districts of the city to safer areas,’ Dost Mohammad Daryab, head of the provincial refugee department, told the AFP news agency.

Others also expressed concerns the fighting could increase in the days ahead.

‘If they really want to fight, they should go to a desert and fight, not destroy the city,’ Khan Mohammad, who moved to a camp with his family, also told AFP. ‘Even if they win, they can’t rule a ghost town.’

Last week, 15 diplomatic missions and the NATO representative in Kabul urged the Taliban to ‘lay down their weapons for good and show the world their commitment to the peace process’ on the Eid al-Adha holiday. 

The joint statement was submitted by Australia, Canada, the Czech Republic, Denmark, the European Union delegation, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Korea, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, Britain and the US and NATO’s senior civilian representative.

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