At least 848 Afghan civilian casualties in Kunduz: U.N.

KABUL (Reuters) - At least 848 Afghan civilians were killed or wounded following a Taliban attack on the northern city of Kunduz in September, according to a U.N. report that detailed the grim conditions endured by residents during two weeks of fighting.

Debris are seen inside the Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) hospital after it was it by the U.S. air strikes in Kunduz, Afghanistan October 17, 2015. REUTERS/Stringer

The 289 dead and 559 injured included at least 30 killed and 37 injured in a U.S. air strike on a hospital run by Medecins Sans Frontieres, the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) said in a report.

It said the figures were likely to rise as further information became available, noting that unstable security meant its officials had been unable to conduct detailed investigations in Kunduz.

Medecins Sans Frontieres said on Saturday that its own count of the death toll from the Kunduz hospital attack had risen to 42, a figure UNAMA said it was verifying.

Apart from the losses in the air strike on Oct. 3, it said most casualties had been caused from small arms fire or explosives during heavy fighting in residential areas.

“In most of these cases, UNAMA could not attribute the casualties to a specific party to the conflict,” it said, although it also detailed reports of deliberate killings by the Taliban of civilians including people associated with the government.

It also joined calls for an independent investigation into the attack on the hospital, which it said may amount to a war crime if it were proved to be deliberate.

An estimated 150,000 people were trapped in the city by the most prolonged period of urban fighting in Afghanistan since the U.S.-led campaign against the Taliban in 2001.

Some 13,000 families fled, adding to the hundreds of thousands already displaced by violence and lack of security, UNAMA said.

The report detailed food shortages, lack of electricity, looting and allegations of human rights abuses by fighters on both sides as well as by other armed men who took advantage of the chaos.

“The insecurity, absence of governance and the breakdown of rule of law during this period resulted in a loss of protection of the most basic human rights, including the rights to life and security of person,” it said.

“This chaos enabled an environment in which arbitrary killings, and other forms of violence against civilians and civilian objects, criminality and destruction of civilian property took place.”

It said the Taliban had created a “climate of fear” with systematic searches for women’s rights activists and civilians working for human rights organizations which prompted many to flee the city.

However, it did not find evidence of any large scale or systematic violence against women and girls by the hardline Islamist movement, which has strongly denied harming women deliberately.

Reporting by James Mackenzie; Editing by Robert Birsel and Ros Russell