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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 12 December 2018

Afghan suicide attacks killed record numbers in 2017

Figure is highest since casualty reports started in 2009

Smoke rises from the Intercontinental Hotel during an attack in Kabul, Afghanistan January 21, 2018. Mohammad Ismail /Reuters
Smoke rises from the Intercontinental Hotel during an attack in Kabul, Afghanistan January 21, 2018. Mohammad Ismail /Reuters

A surge in suicide attacks and bombings in Afghanistan killed a record number of civilians - almost 2,300 - last year, the UN said Thursday, more than any previous year of the conflict on record.

The figures come as militants ramp up their assaults on urban areas, after President Donald Trump said last August the American presence in Afghanistan would remain open-ended and the US stepped up airstrikes on rural militant strongholds.

The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) reported that civilian deaths across the country fell nine percent overall in 2017, with 10,453 casualties including 3,438 deaths and 7,015 wounded.

But as the Taliban and ISIL have come under more pressure they have increasingly carried out indiscriminate assaults in cities.

As a result, casualties from suicide bombings and attacks jumped by 17 percent.

It was the fourth consecutive year that more than 10,000 civilians were killed or wounded in Afghanistan.

It is no longer the fighting but attacks and bombings, often in crowded urban centres, that kill and maim the most often, with nearly 2,300 casualties -- 22 percent of the total in 2017 -- coming from such assaults.

"2017 recorded the highest number of civilian casualties from suicide and complex attacks in a single year in Afghanistan," the report said, with 605 killed and 1,690 wounded from such incidents.

The capital remained a top target, with 16 percent of all casualties during the year -- a total of 1,831 people killed and wounded -- occurring in Kabul alone.

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"Afghan civilians have been killed going about their daily lives -- travelling on a bus, praying in a mosque, simply walking past a building that was targeted," Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, was quoted as saying in the report.

"When we see civilians being deliberately targeted, you wonder how long that this (has) to go on," Tadamichi Yamamoto, the UN's special representative in Afghanistan, told reporters in Kabul.

Militants claim to represent Afghan interests but are "killing people in the most appalling manner, creating terror and suffering", he said.

Things have not improved so far in 2018, and he warned the UN is concerned it will see "greater harm this year".

Since January 20, militants have stormed a luxury hotel, bombed a crowded street and raided a military compound in Kabul, killing more than 130 people.

The majority of the victims in 2017 were killed or wounded by anti-government insurgents, according to the report.

However pro-government forces, including international troops, were responsible for 20 percent of the civilian casualties -- a seven percent increase from 2016.

The casualties by pro-government forces were mainly caused by the increase in aerial bombings by Afghan and foreign forces, the UNAMA said. The US is the only international force known to be carrying out airstrikes in Afghanistan.

More than 28,000 civilians have been killed and over 52,000 wounded in Afghanistan since 2009 when officials started documenting the casualties, according to the UN.