The United Nations says almost 2,400 Afghan civilians were killed or wounded in May and June, the highest number for those two months since records started in 2009, and more women and children were among the victims in the first half of the year than in any previous six-month interval.
In a report published on July 26, the UN's Assistance Mission to Afghanistan (UNAMA) said it had documented 5,183 civilian casualties between January and June, of which 1,659 were deaths -- a 47 percent increase over the same period last year.
Fighting between Taliban militants and Afghan government forces intensified in May and June after U.S. President Joe Biden announced American troops would withdraw by August 31, bringing an end to 20 years of foreign military presence in the country.
Negotiations between the militants and the government have been taking place in Qatar in recent weeks but little substantive progress has been made since peace talks began in September.
The report said women and children made up 46 percent of all civilian casualties in the first half of the year.
In total, 468 children were killed and 1,214 wounded, while 219 women lost their lives and 508 were wounded.
"Particularly shocking and of deep concern is that women, boys and girls made up close to half of all civilian casualties in the first half of 2021,"UNAMA said in a statement.
The report blamed anti-government forces for 64 percent of all civilian casualties, with 39 percent inflicted by the Taliban, nearly 9 percent by the Islamic State group, and 16 percent undetermined.
But it also warned that government troops and their affiliates were responsible for some 25 percent of all civilian casualties.
UNAMA said it expected casualties to mount to their highest one-year levels since the mission began reporting in 2009.
"Unprecedented numbers of Afghan civilians will perish and be maimed this year if the increasing violence is not stemmed," said Deborah Lyons, the UN secretary-general's special representative for Afghanistan.
"I implore the Taliban and Afghan leaders to take heed of the conflict's grim and chilling trajectory and its devastating impact on civilians," Lyons said."