Afghan civilian casualties touch record high: United Nations

Wednesday, 5 August, Geneva: Civilian casualties in Afghanistan hit a record high in the first half of this year with nearly 5,000 people, mostly women and children, falling victim to the sharp spike in ground combat and suicide attacks, a UN report said on Wednesday, six months after the NATO combat mission ended.

The total 4,921 civilian casualties — 1,592 deaths and 3,329 injured — between January and June increased one percent compared with the same period last year, said the report. The vast majority, or 90%, of all civilians casualties resulted from ground engagements (32%), improvised explosive devices (22%), complex and suicide attacks (21%) and targeted killings (14%), the report said, adding that the conflict was taking a particularly heavy toll on women and children.

The number of women casualties rose by 23% and children 13% in the first six months of 2015. The casualties have reached their highest level since the UN began issuing its authoritative reports in 2009.

The 2015 Midyear Report on Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict, released on Wednesday, was prepared by the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).

The UNAMA report said that civilian casualties caused by government forces during ground engagements are up 60% compared to the same period in 2014. “UNAMA documented 77 civilian casualties (32 deaths and 45 injured) from aerial operations by both international military forces and Afghan national security forces, an 88% increase compared to the same period in 2014,” the report said.

However, the report said that the most harm was caused by anti-government elements and attributes 70% of the total civilian casualties due to attacks by anti-government elements. “This report lays bare the heart-rending, prolonged suffering of civilians in Afghanistan, who continue to bear the brunt of the armed conflict and live in insecurity and uncertainty over whether a trip to a bank, a tailoring class, to a court room or a wedding party, may be their last,” said UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra ad Al Hussein in a statement.

“While peace negotiations between the Government of Afghanistan and the Taliban gained some momentum, this bore little or no impact on Taliban efforts for increased control of territory,” notes the report.
“These acts, presumably aimed at undermining Government authority ahead of any final settlement, caused extreme harm to the civilian population,” it states.

Afghanistan’s security forces have been fighting the Taliban alone since the withdrawal of US and international combat troops last year. The Taliban have sought to take advantage by escalating their attacks, spreading their footprint from the south and east to the north, and joining forces with other insurgent groups.