The escalating violence in Afghanistan is taking a particularly heavy toll on women and children, according to a new UN survey of civilian casualties in the country.
A report by the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) released on August 5 noted that the number of women casualties rose 23 percent and children 13 percent.
"This year, UNAMA recorded the highest number of children and women casualties compared to the same period in previous years," said Danielle Bell, UNAMA director of human rights. "The rise in the numbers of women and children killed and maimed from conflict-related violence is particularly disturbing."
She called on all parties in the conflict to undertake stronger measures to protect civilians from harm. "When the conflict kills or maims a mother, child, sister or brother, the repercussions for families and communities are devastating and long-lasting," Bell said.
UNAMA said civilian casualties in Afghanistan hit a record high and 70 percent were caused by insurgent forces. The government forces caused 15 percent of the casualties.
Bell said UNAMA was not able to establish whether the Taliban was using civilians as human shields. A large number of casualties, however, were caused by gun battles between the government forces and insurgents in residential areas.
The UNAMA report, called "Midyear Report on Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict," has documented nearly 5,000 civilian casualties in the first six months of this year. These include 1,592 deaths and 3,329 injured, which represents a 1 percent increase in civilian casualties during the same period last year.
"The vast majority, or 90 percent, of all civilian casualties resulted from ground engagements, improvised explosive devices, complex and suicide attacks, and targeted killings," the report noted.
Nicholas Haysom, head of UNAMA, said Afghan civilians have suffered far too long because of the ongoing destructive conflict in their country. "The devastating consequences of this violence against civilians as documented in this report should serve to strengthen the broad conviction that peace is urgently needed," he said.
Afghan security forces have been fighting the Taliban on their own after the United States and international troops ended combat operations last year.
The Taliban and allied Central Asian militants are trying to take advantage of government forces' vulnerabilities by extending their attacks into the once peaceful northern provinces from their strongholds in eastern and southern regions along Afghanistan's border with Pakistan.
The emergence of the Islamic State and Talban splinter groups has further complicated the security situation in some Afghan regions.
Haysom, who is also the UN secretary-general's special representative for Afghanistan, called on Kabul and the armed opposition to fulfil their obligations under the international humanitarian law.
"Until peace is achieved, all parties to the conflict must match their public statements on the protection of civilians with concrete actions," he said.
With reporting by AFP and AP