Afghan civilians still bearing harsh fury of fighting, as death rate continues...

Afghan civilians still bearing harsh fury of fighting, as death rate continues to be high

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Col. Art Sellers, left, and Command Sgt. Maj. Reese Teakell, right, Commander and Command Sergeant Major of the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division uncase the brigade’s colors during a Transfer of Authority Ceremony held July 19 on Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan (Photo by Maj. Thomas Cieslak)

WASHINGTON — Defense Secretary Mark Esper travels to Tampa today to meet with the top brass of U.S. Central Command to discuss what to do next with Iran. They may find Afghanistan is clamoring more for attention.

The United Nations said Tuesday that more civilians in Afghanistan were killed by Afghan and international forces in the first half of 2019 than by Taliban insurgents, the principal foe in that country, and other militants.

The report said 717 civilians were killed by Afghan and international allies, the majority in operation such as airstrikes and night raids on terrorist enclaves. The numbers rise as terrorists tend to hide and mingle in civilian populations.

That broke down into 403 by Afghan troops and 314 by international forces.

Taliban and other terrorists were deemed responsible for 531 deaths in the same six month period. The U.N. report said at least 300 of those were targeted directly by terrorists.

A third of civilian casualties resulted from ground combat, a fifth came from roadside bombs, and 14 percent were from aerial operations, among other triggers, the report said.

The new numbers represent a 25 percent drop in civilian deaths from the same period a year ago, the report said; last January to June 2019 were record highs. Civilian casualties attributed to insurgents dropped by 43%, the report said.

That news came along with the latest report from the Inspector General for Afghanistan that said that the Pentagon has spent more than $18 billion to equip the Afghan security forces, providing over 600,000 weapons, 70,000 vehicles, and more than 200 aircraft.

However, the support has been of mixed results, in large part because no single entity was or is responsible for the oversight of all U.S. and international activities to develop the Afghan security forces, the report said. It said that support varies in what is given to the armed forces versus the police, and training, advising, or assisting varies depending on the providing nation.

Both reports come as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, speaking Monday in Washington, said President Trump sees the 2020 November election as the end date for a drawdown of U.S. troops from the current 14,000 force to about 7,500, according to news reports.

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