KABUL (Reuters) - Battles between the Taliban and government forces were responsible for the most Afghan civilian casualties in 2014, the war’s deadliest year, surpassing roadside bombs as the leading killer for the first time, the United Nations said on Wednesday.
A total of 3,699 Afghan civilians were killed and 6,849 wounded in the war last year, as fighting intensified in tandem with the sharp drawdown of U.S. and allied foreign troops who formally ended their combat role in December after 13 years.
The 22 percent rise in civilian deaths and injuries – the highest total since the U.N. began keeping records in 2009 - came despite U.S. generals’ assessment that the newly trained Afghan army and police are winning the war.
“Mortars, IEDs, gunfire and other explosives destroyed human life, stole limbs and ruined lives at unprecedented levels,” said Nicholas Haysom, the U.N. special representative in Afghanistan.
Ground battles killed 1,092 civilians and accounted for 34 percent of civilian deaths and injuries, compared to 28 percent caused by roadside bombs known as improvised explosive devices (IEDs).
Assassinations by the Taliban and their allies made up 11 percent of the overall toll, and insurgent suicide attacks accounted for 15 percent. Explosives left on battlefields caused 4 percent of casualties and the rest were classified as “other”.
The United Nations recorded 511 civilian deaths in December alone as the Taliban, who were ousted from power by a U.S.-led coalition in 2001, launched waves of attacks to coincide with the official end of the NATO-led combat mission.
The report attributed 72 percent of all civilian deaths and injuries last year to the Taliban and their allies, who seek to re-establish radical Islamic rule.
Government forces were responsible for 14 percent of casualties, international forces’ air strikes accounted for 2 percent and the fault could not be determined in 10 percent of cases.
The Taliban have in the past strenuously denied being responsible for the vast majority of civilian deaths, calling the United Nations biased.
Since the U.N. began tracking civilian casualties in 2009, 17,774 civilian deaths and 29,971 injuries have been recorded.
Afghanistan’s national army and police have also suffered record losses last year, with nearly 5,000 killed.
Since 2001, nearly 3,500 foreign soldiers from 29 countries have been killed in Afghanistan, including about 2,200 Americans. Reliable insurgent casualty numbers are not available.
Reporting by Kay Johnson; Editing by Nick Macfie