'Unprecedented' Afghan civilian casualties in July-September: UN

An Afghan soldier sits in the back of a vehicle on patrol in Guzara district in Herat province. The UN says there was an unprecedented number of civilian casualties between July and September 2019

An "unprecedented" number of civilians were killed or wounded in Afghanistan from July to September this year, the United Nations said in a new report released Thursday, calling the violence "totally unacceptable".

The report, which also charts violence throughout 2019 so far, underscores how "Afghans have been exposed to extreme levels of violence for many years" despite promises by all sides to "prevent and mitigate harm to civilians".

It also noted the absurdity of the ever-increasing price paid by civilians given the widespread belief that the war in Afghanistan cannot be won by either side.

"Civilian casualties are totally unacceptable," said the UN's special representative in Afghanistan, Tadamichi Yamamoto, adding they demonstrate the importance of talks leading to a ceasefire and a permanent political settlement.

"The impact of Afghanistan's conflict on civilians is appalling," said Fiona Frazer, UNAMA's Human Rights Chief.

The figures -- 1,174 deaths and 3,139 injured from July 1 until September 30 -- represent a 42 percent increase over the same time period last year.

- Violence surged -

The UN laid most of the blame for the spike at the feet of "anti-government elements" such as the Taliban, who have been carrying out a bloody insurgency in Afghanistan now for more than 18 years.

July alone saw more casualties than in any other month on record since the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) began documenting the violence in 2009.

The first six months of 2019 had seen casualties drop slightly compared to previous years.

But the violence has surged so far in the third quarter that it yanked the overall total for the year back on par with the bloodiest since NATO withdrew its combat forces at the end of 2014.

The UN recorded 8,239 civilian casualties in total in the first nine months of 2019 -- 2,563 killed and 5,676 injured -- with the majority caused by suicide attacks or improvised explosive devices (IEDs).

Some 41 percent of them were women and children, UNAMA said.

The UN also documented an alarming jump in casualties by pro-government forces since the year began.

Of the 8,239 total casualties, 1,149 of them were killed and 1,199 injured by pro-government forces, mostly in ground engagements and airstrikes -- an increase of 26 percent from the same period last year.

Taliban violence was the reason cited by US President Donald Trump in September for abruptly calling off talks between the Taliban and Washington that were expected to pave the way for a wider peace in Afghanistan.

The talks, held mainly in Doha starting in September of 2018, had led to a draft agreement which would have seen the US begin withdrawing troops from Afghanistan in exchange for various pledges from the Taliban.

The hope had been that it would lead to talks and an eventual settlement between the insurgents and the US-backed government in Kabul.

After Trump blew up the talks at the last moment, the Taliban threatened to keep on fighting -- but left the door open for talks in the future.