KABUL, Afghanistan - A suicide bombing at a wedding, a deadly airstrike on a village, grenades in a mosque - hundreds of Afghan civilians are dying violently this summer, while the Taliban and the NATO coalition wage verbal warfare.
A U.N. report says 1,145 civilians were killed and 1,954 others injured during the first half of the year, 80 percent of them by militants.
But like other aspects of this decade-long war, facts are often obscured by perception and propaganda.
That has left both sides locked in a battle of words, crafted to win the Afghan public's support.
The foreign forces and Taliban fighters have been issuing dueling statements ever since the conflict began more than a decade ago. Civilian casualties are the latest focus of the information war.
In a message ahead of Eid al-Fitr, the feast that marks the end of Ramadan this weekend, Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar instructed his fighters once again to avoid killing or wounding Afghan civilians.
"Employ tactics that do not cause harm to the life and property of the common countrymen," the one-eyed chieftain of the insurgency said in an eight-page message released to news organizations.
It came days after at least 50 people were killed in bombings and gun battles that erupted on either end of the country in the deadliest day of violence for civilians this year. The Taliban has not yet claimed responsibility for carrying out the attacks Tuesday in Kunduz and Nimroz provinces, but the coalition wasted no time in hanging the blame on Omar's shoulders.
"Omar once again writes that his thugs should 'pay close attention to the protection of life, property and honor ... employ tactics that do not cause harm to life and property of the common countrymen,'" U.S. Gen. John Allen, the commander of American and NATO forces in Afghanistan, said Friday in his written response to Omar's message.
"Yet, as we saw in Nimroz and Kunduz provinces just days ago, Omar sent his assassins to slaughter dozens of innocent Afghan men, women and children."
"Either Omar is lying, or his henchmen are not listening to him."
The U.N. figures represented a 15 percent decrease in overall deaths and injuries from the previous year, but U.N. officials cautioned that civilian casualties were spiking as summer fighting continues.
Those attributed to foreign and Afghan forces declined as both groups strengthened policies to protect civilians, the U.N. said - 165 civilians killed in the first half of the year, down 35 percent from 255 in 2011. The majority - 127 - came from airstrikes, though that was also a reduction from the previous year.
Beyond statistics, however, the conflict is as much a "war of perceptions" as it is a fight on the battlefield, said Thomas Ruttig, who co-directs the Afghanistan Analysts Network in Kabul.
"The Taliban are attacking what they consider legitimate targets," such as the Afghan police and army, foreign troops as well as Afghan government officials and their supporters, he said. "When they are attacking what they say are legitimate targets, they often do not care about bystanders."