KABUL, Afghanistan – More civilians were killed in the Afghan war in 2018 than during any other year on record after nearly two decades of fighting, according to a United Nations (UN) report released Sunday, February 24.
The report’s release comes a day before the US and the Taliban hold their next round of talks aimed at ending the conflict, raising tentative hopes for peace along with fears that an American withdrawal could spark an even bloodier civil war.
The talks in Doha follow years of escalating violence in Afghanistan. According to the UN, at least 32,000 civilians have been killed and another 60,000 wounded in the last decade when the organization began compiling the data.
The uptick in violence in 2018 coincides with a significant increase in the number of deaths caused by the “deliberate targeting of civilians,” according to the report, mostly stemming from suicide attacks by insurgents allied with the Taliban or Islamic State (ISIS).
“It is time to put an end to this human misery and tragedy,” said Tadamichi Yamamoto, the head of the UN mission in Afghanistan.
“The best way to halt the killings and maiming of civilians is to stop the fighting,” he said. (READ: ‘Worse every day’: Afghans expect 2019 to be even deadlier)
At least 65 suicide attacks were recorded in 2018 – the majority hitting Kabul – with militants responsible for the death of more than 2,200 civilians across the country.
An increase in air strikes by US and Afghan forces also led to more civilian deaths in 2018, with more than 500 civilians killed by “aerial operations for the first time on record,” the report noted.
The US intensified its air campaign against Taliban and ISIS fighters as Washington seeks to pile pressure on the militants, dropping twice as many munitions on insurgent positions in 2018 compared to the previous year.
Yamamoto said the civilian casualties were “wholly unacceptable” and called on all parties to take “immediate and additional concrete steps to stop a further escalation in the number of civilians harmed and lives destroyed.”
Afghanistan has suffered nearly constant conflict since the Soviet invasion of 1979, which was followed by civil war, the Taliban regime, and the US invasion in late 2001.
The escalating violence comes as US President Donald Trump has been pushing to end US involvement in Afghanistan, where 14,000 American troops are still deployed.
Marathon talks held in Doha in January sparked hopes of a breakthrough after the two sides agreed to a “draft framework” that included a Taliban vow to prevent Afghanistan from once again becoming a safe haven for international terror groups.
But US envoy Zalmay Khalilzad – who is leading the American side negotiating with the Taliban – has emphasized that any troop withdrawal would depend on conditions on the ground.
Critics remain skeptical of the talks for a number of reasons, primarily because they have not yet included the Afghan government, which the Taliban considers US-backed puppets. (READ: The Taliban have not changed, warn Afghans living under their rule) – Rappler.com