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Civilian deaths in Afghan war hit record in 2018

KABUL: More civilians were killed in the Afghan war in 2018 than during any other year on record after nearly two decades of fighting, according to a UN report released Sunday.
The report’s release comes a day before the US and the Taliban hold their next round of talks aimed at ending the conflict, raising tentative hopes for peace along with fears that an American withdrawal could spark an even bloodier civil war.The talks in Doha follow years of escalating violence in Afghanistan. According to the UN, at least 32,000 civilians have been killed and another 60,000 wounded in the last decade when the organisation began compiling the data.
The uptick in violence in 2018 coincides with a significant increase in the number of deaths caused by the “deliberate targeting of civilians”, according to the report, mostly stemming from suicide attacks by insurgents allied with the Taliban or Islamic State (IS).”It is time to put an end to this human misery and tragedy,” said Tadamichi Yamamoto, the head of the UN mission in Afghanistan.”The best way to halt the killings and maiming of civilians is to stop the fighting,” he said. At least 65 suicide attacks were recorded in 2018 — the majority hitting Kabul — with militants responsible for the death of more than 2,200 civilians across the country.
An increase in air strikes by US and Afghan forces also led to more civilian deaths in 2018, with more than 500 civilians killed by “aerial operations for the first time on record”, the report noted.The US intensified its air campaign against Taliban and IS fighters as Washington seeks to pile pressure on the militants, dropping twice as many munitions on insurgent positions in 2018 compared to the previous year.Yamamoto said the civilian casualties were “wholly unacceptable” and called on all parties to take “immediate and additional concrete steps to stop a further escalation in the number of civilians harmed and lives destroyed”.Afghanistan has suffered nearly constant conflict since the Soviet invasion of 1979, which was followed by civil war, the Taliban regime, and the US invasion in late 2001.
The escalating violence comes as US President Donald Trump has been pushing to end US involvement in Afghanistan, where 14,000 American troops are still deployed.Marathon talks held in Doha in January sparked hopes of a breakthrough after the two sides agreed to a “draft framework” that included a Taliban vow to prevent Afghanistan from once again becoming a safe haven for international terror groups.But US envoy Zalmay Khalilzad — who is leading the American side negotiating with the Taliban — has emphasised that any troop withdrawal would depend on conditions on the ground. Critics remain skeptical of the talks for a number of reasons, primarily because they have not yet included the Afghan government, which the Taliban considers US-backed puppets.
Civilian deaths jumped by 11 percent from 2017 with 3,804 people killed and another 7,189 wounded, according to the UN figures, as suicide attacks and bombings wreaked havoc across the war-torn country.The report’s release comes a day before the US and the Taliban hold their next round of talks aimed at ending the conflict, raising tentative hopes for peace along with fears that an American withdrawal could spark an even bloodier civil war.
The talks in Doha follow years of escalating violence in Afghanistan. According to the UN, at least 32,000 civilians have been killed and another 60,000 wounded in the last decade when the organisation began compiling the data.
The uptick in violence in 2018 coincides with a significant increase in the number of deaths caused by the “deliberate targeting of civilians”, according to the report, mostly stemming from suicide attacks by insurgents allied with the Taliban or Islamic State (IS).”It is time to put an end to this human misery and tragedy,” said Tadamichi Yamamoto, the head of the UN mission in Afghanistan.
“The best way to halt the killings and maiming of civilians is to stop the fighting,” he said. At least 65 suicide attacks were recorded in 2018 — the majority hitting Kabul — with militants responsible for the death of more than 2,200 civilians across the country.An increase in air strikes by US and Afghan forces also led to more civilian deaths in 2018, with more than 500 civilians killed by “aerial operations for the first time on record”, the report noted.The US intensified its air campaign against Taliban and IS fighters as Washington seeks to pile pressure on the militants, dropping twice as many munitions on insurgent positions in 2018 compared to the previous year.
Yamamoto said the civilian casualties were “wholly unacceptable” and called on all parties to take “immediate and additional concrete steps to stop a further escalation in the number of civilians harmed and lives destroyed”.Afghanistan has suffered nearly constant conflict since the Soviet invasion of 1979, which was followed by civil war, the Taliban regime, and the US invasion in late 2001.The escalating violence comes as US President Donald Trump has been pushing to end US involvement in Afghanistan, where 14,000 American troops are still deployed.Marathon talks held in Doha in January sparked hopes of a breakthrough after the two sides agreed to a “draft framework” that included a Taliban vow to prevent Afghanistan from once again becoming a safe haven for international terror groups.But US envoy Zalmay Khalilzad — who is leading the American side negotiating with the Taliban  has emphasised that any troop withdrawal would depend on conditions on the ground. Critics remain skeptical of the talks for a number of reasons, primarily because they have not yet included the Afghan government, which the Taliban considers US-backed puppets.

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US-backed Syrian forces battle to take last IS pocket

NEAR BAGHOUZ (AFP) – Syrian fighters backed by artillery fire from a US-led coalition battled a fierce jihadist counteroffensive Monday as they pushed to retake a last morsel of territory from the Islamic State group.
A war monitor said a coalition air strike killed 16 civilians including seven children trying to flee the holdout on Monday, but the US-led alliance was not immediately available for comment.More than four years after the extremists declared a caliphate across large parts of Syria and neighbouring Iraq, several offensives have whittled that down to a tiny holdout.The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces on Saturday announced the final push to expel hundreds of diehard jihadists from that patch in eastern Syria on the Iraq border.The US-led coalition maintained a steady beat of bombings on the last IS pocket on Monday, as the SDF faced fierce resistance.The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based war monitor, said 12 SDF fighters and 19 jihadists were killed in the fighting Monday.
Heavy clashes are ongoing to pressure IS into surrendering, Observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman said.SDF spokesman Mustafa Bali said the SDF responded after IS launched a counterattack earlier in the day.

IS launched a counterattack on our forces and we are now responding with rockets, air strikes and direct clashes, Bali told AFP earlier.The sound of bombs echoed dozens of kilometres (miles) away and columns of dark grey smoke could be seen from SDF territory.
Bali said there were dozens of SDF hostages held by IS inside their last foothold, but denied reports of executions.Backed by coalition air strikes, the SDF alliance has been battling to oust the jihadists from the eastern province of Deir Ezzor since September.Since December, tens of thousands of people, most women and children related to IS fighters, have fled the shrinking jihadist holdout into SDF territory.US-backed forces have screened the new arrivals, weeding out potential jihadists for questioning.
On Monday, dozens of coalition and SDF fighters were stationed at a screening point for new arrivals from IS areas.Coalition forces stood over about 20 men who were crouching on the ground.

Two French women told AFP they paid smugglers to take them out of the battered IS-held holdout of Baghouz, but Iraqi jihadists had prevented other foreigners from leaving.They said only the Syrians and Iraqis can be smuggled out, said one of the women, who said her first name was Christelle, from the city of BordeauxThe Observatory said 600 people including around 20 suspected jihadists fled IS areas overnight.The SDF said it advanced inside the pocket on Sunday, seizing 40 positions from IS.
On Saturday, the alliance said up to 600 jihadists as well as hundreds of civilians could remain inside the IS patch of four square kilometres (one square mile).Spokesman Bali said IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the man who pronounced the cross-border caliphate in 2014, was not among them, and likely not in Syria.

At the height of their rule, the jihadists imposed their brutal interpretation of Islamic law on a territory roughly the size of Britain.But military offensives in both countries, including by the SDF, have since retaken the vast bulk of their territory.The jihadists however retain a presence in Syria s vast Badia desert, and have claimed a series of deadly attacks in SDF-held areas.US President Donald Trump in December shocked Washington s allies by announcing a full withdrawal of US troops from Syria as IS had been beaten.
Trump s decision to withdraw US troops has left Syria s Kurds scrambling for safeguards.A US departure makes them more vulnerable to a long threatened attack by neighbouring Turkey, who considers Kurdish fighters to be terrorists, and dashes their dreams of autonomy.The Kurds have largely stayed out of Syria s nearly eight-year civil war, instead building their own semi-autonomous institutions in the northeast of the country.But the expected US pullout has seen them grappling to mend ties with the Damascus regime, which is against Kurdish self-rule.

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