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Civilian casualties at near-record level this year, according to U.N. report

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Civilian casualties at near-record level this year, according to U.N. report
 An ambulance packed with explosives that detonated in Kabul and a pedestrian suicide bombing outside a shrine there were among the deadly incidents that led to a near-record 2,258 civilian casualties in Afghanistan during the first quarter of this year, U.N. officials reported this week.
According to the U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, there were 763 conflict-related civilian deaths and 1,495 injuries across Afghanistan between January and March. Those figures were comparable with record-high levels of casualties reported during the same period in the past two years, as aggressive attacks by Taliban insurgents and the Islamic State increased.
In an especially alarming sign, the report indicated the number of casualties caused by suicide bombings or by complex insurgent assaults with both bombs and guns was twice as high as during the first quarter of 2017, even as thousands of U.S. military troops embarked on an ambitious effort to expand and bolster the performance of Afghan defense forces.
The largest single spike in civilian casualties came during a 10-day period in January, when both Taliban and Islamic State forces attacked numerous targets in Kabul, killing more than 150 people and wounding hundreds. They included the ambulance suicide attack near a hospital, a commando siege of a luxury hotel and an armed raid on a military training facility.
A second deadly trend during the first three months of the year was a string of bombings and other attacks on mosques and other targets, both in Kabul and in other cities including Herat and Mazar-e-Sharif. Most were claimed by the Islamic State, an extremist. One March bombing near a shrine in Kabul, where people had gathered to celebrate the Persian new year, killed 30 people and wounded scores.
“Afghan civilians continue to suffer, caught in the conflict, in ways that are preventable. This must stop now,” Ingrid Hayden, the U.N. Secretary General’s deputy special representative for Afghanistan, said in a statement. “All parties to the conflict . . . must do everything in their power to protect civilians from harm.”
The U. N. report said casualties caused by pro-government forces so far this year were slightly lower than the first part of last year.
Afghan military officials said the Kunduz air attack was aimed at Taliban leaders in the compound and that several of them were killed. The location of the seminary, Dasht-i-Archi district, is a longtime Taliban stronghold that Afghan forces have been unable to recapture despite months of intense fighting and air raids.
Meanwhile, an especially deadly stealth attack by the Taliban in Ghazni province reinforced the impression that its forces are continuing to gain ground with aggressive military tactics, despite recent overtures from the Kabul government about reviving peace talks, and even in areas of the country that have been considered relatively safe.
On April 12, Taliban forces overran the Khwaja Omari district of Ghazni, killing the district governor and numerous policemen. 
The raid was carried out at 2 a.m., and the government compound was set on fire as the insurgents left the area. U.S. officials had listed that district as “government influenced,” meaning it was largely under state control and had minimal Taliban presence.
“The fact that the Taliban was able to easily overrun the Khwaja Omari district center indicates that the Taliban presence . . . is far greater than assessed” by the U.S. military, wrote Bill Roggio, editor of the Long War Journal. He said “the security situation in Afghanistan has progressively declined” since most U.S. forces withdrew in 2014.
News Desk