Afghan civilian casualties tops 10,000 in 2019: UN
According to the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), 3,404 civilians were killed and 6,989 were injured in 2019.
While the number was down five percent from 2018, it was nonetheless the sixth year straight that the war caused more than 10,000 casualties, UNAMA said.
"Almost no civilian in Afghanistan has escaped being personally affected in some way by the ongoing violence," UNAMA head Tadamichi Yamamoto said.
"It is absolutely imperative for all parties to seize the moment to stop the fighting, as peace is long overdue; civilian lives must be protected and efforts for peace are under way."
The five-percent drop in casualties was attributed to the decrease in activity by the local Islamic State affiliate in eastern Afghanistan, which was largely wiped out last year.
Violent attacks in Afghanistan's war jumped to record levels in the last quarter of 2019, a US government watchdog said this year, underscoring the conflict's continued toll.
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According to the US Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), "enemy-initiated attacks" rose sharply last year, with the fourth quarter seeing a total of 8,204 attacks - up from 6,974 in the same period in 2018.
September, when the first round of presidential voting was held, saw the highest number of casualty-causing attacks since recording began in 2010.
SIGAR noted that attacks appeared to mirror progress in US-Taliban talks, with incidents dropping earlier in the year, then picking up again after US President Donald Trump temporarily halted negotiations in September.
"A turbulent last six months resulted in increases in overall enemy attacks (6 percent) and effective attacks (4 percent) in 2019 compared to the already high levels reported in 2018," SIGAR said in its quarterly report to the US Congress.
The Pentagon has also continued to up the tempo of operations, with American warplanes dropping more bombs on Afghanistan in 2019 than at any other time in at least a decade, according to the US Air Force.
The United States has been in talks with the Taliban for more than a year to secure the deal, in which it would pull out thousands of troops in return for Taliban security guarantees and a promise to hold peace talks with the government in Kabul.
The Taliban, the US and Afghan forces have agreed to cut violence for seven days ahead of the planned February 29 signing of a US-Taliban deal that could begin to end the war.
On Saturday, a partial truce, being referred to by warring parties as a "reduction in violence", started across Afghanistan.
Both US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and the Taliban issued statements on Friday saying they had agreed to sign an accord on February 29 in Doha, following the one-week partial truce.
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"Upon a successful implementation of this understanding, signing of the US-Taliban agreement is expected to move forward," Pompeo said, adding that talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government would "start soon thereafter”.
A reduction in violence would show the Taliban can control their forces and demonstrate good faith ahead of any signing, which would see the Pentagon withdraw about half of the 12,000-13,000 troops currently in Afghanistan.
Since the US invasion in 2001 there has only been one other pause in the fighting - a surprise three-day ceasefire between the Taliban and Kabul marking the religious festival of Eid in 2018.
Since the US-led invasion after the September 11, 2001 attacks, America has spent more than $1 trillion in fighting and rebuilding in Afghanistan.
About 2,400 US soldiers have been killed, along with unknown tens of thousands of Afghan troops, Taliban fighters and Afghan civilians.