The number of civilians killed or wounded in fighting in Afghanistan climbed by 22 percent in 2014 to reach the highest level in five years as foreign troops concluded their combat mission, the U.N. said in an annual report released Wednesday.
The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan documented 10,548 civilian casualties in 2014, the highest number in a single year since 2009. They include 3,699 civilian deaths, up 25 percent from 2013.
The U.N. says the Taliban and other insurgents were responsible for 72 percent of all civilian casualties, with government forces and foreign troops responsible for just 14 percent.
“The situation for civilians in Afghanistan is becoming increasingly dire,” Georgette Gagnon, human rights director for the U.N. mission in Kabul, told Reuters news agency.
U.S. and NATO troops pulled back from volatile areas last year, handing security responsibility over to Afghan forces and officially concluding their combat mission at the end of the year. At least 2,000 U.S. soldiers have died in Afghanistan since the invasion to topple the Taliban following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
The U.N. report attributed the rise in casualties to intensified ground fighting, in which weapons like mortars, rockets and grenades are used in populated areas, sometimes indiscriminately.
For the first time since 2009, more Afghan civilians were killed and injured by ground fighting than by any other tactic, including roadside bombs. The report found that civilian deaths and injuries resulting from ground operations surged by 54 percent, making them the “biggest killers of Afghan women and children in 2014.”
In total, the U.N. has documented nearly 19,000 civilian deaths and more than 30,000 injuries since they began tracking civilian casualties in 2009.
In southern Kandahar province, a suicide bomber struck near a police station on Wednesday, killing an Afghan woman and a small child. The attack, which happened in Kandahar city, also wounded three civilians. And on Tuesday night, a roadside bomb exploded outside of Kabul, killing four members of a family, authorities said.