Civilian casualties in Afghanistan in 2016 hit their highest recorded level, the UN said Monday, with nearly 11,500 non-combatants -- one third of them children -- killed or wounded.
Fighting between Afghan security forces and militants, especially in populated areas, remained "the leading cause of civilian casualties" more than two years after NATO's combat mission ended, said the UN, which began documenting civilian casualties in 2009.
More than 3,500 children were among the victims, a "disproportionate" increase of 24 percent in one year, its report said. This was mainly due to a 66 percent increase in casualties, most of whom were children, from unexploded ordnance.
The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) said there were 11,418 civilian casualties (3,498 deaths and 7,920 injured), an increase of three percent over 2015,
With insecurity spiralling as fighting spreads to all 34 provinces, "UNAMA documented record numbers of civilian casualties from ground engagements, suicide and complex attacks and explosive remnants of war", said the mission's human rights director Danielle Bell.
2016 also saw the highest number yet of civilian casualties caused by air strikes -- 590, of whom 250 were killed, the report said.
That is nearly double the number of 2015, with women and children in populated areas often the victims, such as near the northern provincial capital of Kunduz in October.
In the eight years since the United Nations launched the annual report, the conflict has claimed 24,841 civilian lives with 45,347 injuries, the report said.
The vast majority (61 percent) of the casualties were attributed to "anti-government elements", mainly the Taliban, but also to the Islamic State group, while 24 percent were attributed to pro-government forces.