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UN says more Afghan civilians killed in 2019 by Afghan, U.S. and allied forces than terror groups

In this photo taken on May 15, 2019 Afghan National Army (ANA) soldiers take part in a military exercise at a base in Guzara district in Herat province. Getty

Kabul, Afghanistan -- More civilians were killed by Afghan and international coalition forces in Afghanistan than by the Taliban and other militants in the first half of 2019, the U.N. mission said in a report released Tuesday. The report apparently refers to civilians killed during Afghan and U.S. military operations against insurgents, such as airstrikes and night raids on militant hideouts. Insurgents often hide among civilians.

The U.S. formally ended its combat mission in Afghanistan in 2014 but still provides extensive air and other support to local forces battling militants.

The report by the U.N. mission in Afghanistan said 403 civilians were killed by Afghan forces in the first six months of the year and another 314 by international forces, a total of 717. That's compared to 531 killed by the Taliban, an Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) affiliate and other militants during the same period.

It said 300 of those killed by militants were directly targeted. The Taliban have been carrying out near-daily attacks, mainly targeting security forces.

There was no immediate comment from the Kabul government or the Afghan military on the U.N. report.

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NATO reacts to civilian deaths

NATO said the alliance is "not complacent" and shares U.N. concerns over Afghan civilian casualties, stressing that the "best way to end the suffering of civilians is to focus on the political settlement of the conflict and to continue all efforts to reduce violence."

"Our forces on the ground continue to respect the highest operational standards," said Daniele Riggio, press officer at the alliance headquarters in Brussels. "We thoroughly investigate every allegation of civilian casualties, and we train the Afghan security forces to ensure that they take utmost caution in order not to harm civilians."

The Taliban have rejected calls for a cease-fire as they hold talks with the United States aimed at ending the 18-year war. An ISIS affiliate has meanwhile launched attacks targeting security forces as well as minority Shiites.

"Parties to the conflict may give differing explanations for recent trends, each designed to justify their own military tactics," said Richard Bennett, the human rights chief of the U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, which released the report.

The situation for ordinary Afghans would be improved, he said, "not just by abiding by international humanitarian law but also by reducing the intensity of the fighting."

The report said civilian deaths and injuries were down by a quarter from January to June 2019 compared with the same time last year, when casualties were at an all-time high. Civilian casualties attributed to insurgents dropped by 43%.

Taliban lauds murder of U.S. troops

Meanwhile, a Taliban statement on Tuesday praised the killing of two U.S. service members the previous day in southern Kandahar province. A man dressed as an Afghan soldier shot the Americans and was wounded and then taken into custody.  

U.S. defense officials have told CBS News senior national security correspondent David Martin that it appears the shooter was an infiltrator, not an active member of the Afghan defense forces.

The Taliban called the shooter a "hero" and said he had opened fire at the Americans inside a military base in the Shah Wali Kot district in Kandahar. The U.S. military has so far not identified the slain Americans, pending notification of their families.

Even with the Taliban-U.S. talks underway, there appears to be no end in sight for the violence.

A suicide bomber on a motorcycle detonated his explosives at a market in southern Kandahar province on Tuesday morning, killing at least three children, said Jamal Naser Barekzai, spokesman for the provincial police chief. He said 23 civilians, including eight children, were wounded in the attack in the Spin Bolduk district near the border with Pakistan. 

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