UN: Afghanistan civilian casualty toll 'up by a quarter'

Afghan security forces investigate at the site of a bomb attack in Kabul on 6 June 2014. Image copyright Reuters
Image caption The UN says ground engagements and crossfire "hit children and women with unprecedented force"

The number of civilian casualties killed or injured in Afghanistan has risen by nearly a quarter in the last six months, the United Nations says.

The global body's report said the rise of 24% was caused by an increase in ground combat near populated areas.

Wednesday saw 26 people killed in a Taliban attack in the heart of the southern city of Kandahar.

The rise in violence comes as tens of thousands of foreign troops prepare to withdraw by the end of 2014.

Tensions surrounding the outcome of the Afghan presidential election last month have raised concerns about a further deterioration in the stability and security of the country.

'Ordinary Afghans'

The UN Assistance Mission for Afghanistan (Unama) said it had documented 4,853 civilian casualties between January and June 2014, including 1,564 civilian deaths and 3,289 injuries.

Ground engagements in civilian populated areas had caused two out of every five civilian casualties this year, it added.

Image copyright AP
Image caption Child casualties more than doubled in the first six months of 2014, the UN says

It said clashes, rockets and mortar strikes killed more civilians than roadside bombs - a change from the past when most civilian casualties were caused by improvised explosive devices (IEDs).

Unama director Georgette Gagnon warned that "many battles were taking place near the homes of ordinary Afghans", adding that the numbers of injured women and children were in a "disturbing upward spiral".

In one such attack on Wednesday, militants targeted Kandahar's police headquarters and the office of the provincial governor using car bombs and small arms.

The Afghan authorities say suicide attackers were among the 18 militants killed. Two civilians and six policemen also died in the attack.

The Taliban have been testing the limits of the Afghan army in recent weeks, with a major offensive in the southern province of Helmand, says the BBC's Karen Allen.

The withdrawal of foreign troops by the end of this year will be the litmus test of whether more than a decade of training and investment in building up Afghanistan's own security forces has paid off, she adds.