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KABUL (Reuters) - Afghan civilians are paying the price for increased fighting in populated areas around the country, the United Nations reported on Wednesday, with government troops responsible for a growing share of civilian casualties.
At least 2,562 civilians died and another 5,835 were wounded in the conflict in Afghanistan in the first nine months of this year, U.N. officials said.
A similar number of civilian casualties occurred in the same period in 2015, indicating rates may be levelling off at near-record levels after steadily increasing since the U.N. began monitoring them in 2009.
Ground fighting between pro-government forces and Islamic militants caused nearly 40 percent of all the casualties.
Children have been particularly hard hit by the fighting, with 639 young people killed and 1,822 wounded, for an increase of 15 percent over last year.
The Taliban and a handful of smaller groups have been fighting to topple the Western-backed government, 15 years after the Taliban lost power in a U.S.-led military operation.
"Increased fighting in densely populated areas makes it imperative for parties to take immediate steps to ensure all feasible precautions are being taken to spare civilians from harm," Tadamichi Yamamoto, the U.N.'s Special Representative for Afghanistan, said in a statement.
Casualties caused by pro-government forces rose 42 percent compared to last year, with 623 deaths and 1,274 injured, U.N. investigators reported.
That includes a spike of 72 percent in casualties from air strikes by the Afghan air force and its international allies.
At least 133 people were killed and 159 were injured in air strikes, with two-thirds of those casualties attributed to the Afghan air force, the U.N. said.
The Taliban and other militant groups still accounted for more than 60 percent of the overall casualties, with 1,569 civilian deaths and 3,574 injured, the report showed.
The U.N. condemned anti-government attacks that have directly targeted civilians, including a bombing in the capital, Kabul, in July that killed at least 85 people and injured 413. That attack was claimed by Islamic State.
(Reporting by Josh Smith; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)