KABUL (Reuters) - The war in Afghanistan claimed almost 5,000 civilian casualties in the first half of 2015, the United Nations said on Wednesday, a one percent increase on last year as fighting intensified following the withdrawal of most foreign troops in 2014.
Of the total, 1,592 were killed and 3,329 wounded, according to the U.N.
“This destruction and damage to Afghan lives must be met by a new commitment, by all parties to the conflict, to protect civilians from harm,” said the director of the U.N. human rights unit in Afghanistan, Danielle Bell.
The Islamist militant Taliban were ousted from power by a U.S.-led coalition in 2001, but have been able to regroup and challenge Afghan forces with limited external support.
Last year was the most violent since the U.N. began keeping records in 2009.
Around 12,000 NATO troops remain to train Afghan forces and only a small U.S. contingent is still engaged in combat, as part of a separate counter-terrorism mission.
The Taliban were responsible for around 70 percent of civilian deaths and injuries in the first six months of 2015, the U.N. said, largely through their continued use of suicide attacks and improvised explosive devices.
However, the movement dismissed the conclusions of the report and said it had set up a special unit of its own to investigate civilian casualties.
“Bombardments by occupying forces are the real culprit behind the civilian casualties which are occurring every day,” the group said in a statement that also pointed the finger at local militias mobilized by the government in Kabul.
The growing ability of Afghan forces to detect and defuse bombs may have helped limit the number of casualties, the U.N. added, with over 5,000 devices cleared over the period.
Targeted killings were the leading cause of civilian deaths, the figures showed, as anti-government elements threatened members of the judiciary, religious leaders and others perceived to be supporting the government.
These included a mullah whose residence was bombed in retaliation for having performed a funeral ceremony for a policeman.
Additional reporting by Hamid Shalizi; Editing by Nick Macfie and Mike Collett-White