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Afghan Civilian Casualties Declined, But UN Still Notes 'Appalling Suffering'

People attend the funeral of one of the victims of a suicide bomb attack in Kabul on January 28.
People attend the funeral of one of the victims of a suicide bomb attack in Kabul on January 28.

The number of civilian casualties in the war in Afghanistan declined last year but the number of deaths from air strikes was on the rise, the United Nations says.

The number of civilians killed and wounded decreased by 9 percent in 2017, compared to the previous year, the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) and the UN Human Rights Office said in an annual report released on February 15.

"The chilling statistics in this report provide credible data about the war's impact, but the figures alone cannot capture the appalling human suffering inflicted on ordinary people," said UNAMA head Tadamichi Yamamoto.

The 2017 Annual Report on the Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict in Afghanistan documented 10,453 civilian casualties, including 3,438 deaths and 7,015 wounded, in 2017.

That compares to a total 11,434 casualties in 2016, when there were 3,510 deaths and 7,924 wounded.

Yamamoto expressed deep concerns at the high number of casualties caused by suicide bombings and other attacks using improvised explosive devices (IEDs).

“I am particularly appalled by the continued indiscriminate and unlawful use of IEDs such as suicide bombs and pressure-plate devices in civilian populated areas,” he said. “This is shameful.”

The reports said the second leading cause of civilian casualties was ground engagements between antigovernment and pro-government forces, although there was a decline of 19 percent from the record levels seen in 2016.

It attributed about two-thirds of civilian casualties to antigovernment elements such as the Taliban and the Islamic State extremist group, while pro-government forces caused one-fifth of all casualties.

The report also found that the number of air strikes conducted by Afghan air forces and the international coalition increased “significantly” -- and with it the number of strike-related deaths.

UNAMA documented 631 civilian casualties -- 295 deaths and 336 injured -- from aerial operations, a 7 percent increase from 2016 and the highest number from air strikes in a single year since 2009.

Aerial operations accounted for 6 percent of all civilian casualties in Afghanistan last year, the report said.

With reporting by AP

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