A new UN report released on Monday shows that violence has increased in Afghanistan this year as compared to previous years since counting began in 2009 with record levels of civilian casualties, majority of which are attributed to anti-government groups including Taliban, Islamic State, Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT).
About 5,166 people — of which one-third were children — were killed or maimed in Afghanistan in the first six months of this year, according to the human rights team of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA).
The current report released by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) does not count the 80 dead and 231 wounded in the twin suicide blasts on Hazara protesters in Kabul on 23 July since the report counts figures from January till June this year.
The total civilian casualties in the country recorded by the UN between 1 January, 2009 and 30 June, 2016 is almost 64,000, including about 23,000 deaths and 41,000 injured. These are conservative estimates, according to the mission report.
However, even though the casualties are record high in 2016, the number of deaths in Afghanistan owing to the protracted conflict peaked in 2014, with 1,686 deaths that year.
The conflict is increasingly beginning to hurt children with nearly one out of three casualties was that of a child — an 18 percent increase from the same period last year. Also, more than 80 percent of the deaths from improvised explosive devices (IEDs) were of children in 2016.
“The full extent of the harm and limitations imposed on the Afghan people to realize all their inter-related human rights due to the conflict are beyond the scope of this report,” UNAMA states.
While anti-government forces remain responsible for 60 percent of the civilian casualties, there has been a 47 percent increase in casualties resulting from pro-government military actions — they were overall responsible for 23 percent of the casualties this year primarily from ground engagements.
Anti-government forces include Taliban as well as individuals and non-state organised armed groups taking a direct part in hostilities that includes LeT, Jaish-e-Muhammed, the Haqqani Network, Hezb-e-Islami, Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, Islamic Jihad Union, groups identified as ‘Daesh’ (IS) and other militia and armed groups.
Ground engagements, mainly between government and anti-government forces, accounted for 38 percent of the casualty figures while suicide attacks by groups like Taliban and IS, accounted for 20 percent of the deaths.
Kabul remains the epicenter of civilian casualties this year with about 62 percent of the wounded and killed from suicide and complex attacks taking place in the capital, including the Taliban-claimed complex attack on 19 April targeting the VIP Protection Directorate of the Office of the President that resulted in 393 civilian casualties alone.
Overall, southern Afghanistan has taken the biggest brunt of the conflict in terms of the number of dead civilians since 2009.
Apart from suicide attacks, anti-government elements-attributed civilian casualties from ground engagements using mortars, artilleries, rockets, grenades etc. have also risen in 2016 compared to previous years.
Improvised explosive devices killed and injured 17 percent of Afghan civilians while targeted and deliberate attacks accounted for 11 percent of the maimed and killed in Afghanistan this year.
There has been a whopping increase by 110 percent rise in civilian casualties from aerial operations carried out by Afghan security forces through mortars, rockets and shelling, states the report. The UN has urged the government to cease the use of such aerial attacks in civilian-populated areas.
Significantly, the UN in its report also asked the international military forces, that includes the US, to undertake an independent, impartial, transparent and effective investigation of the October 2015 airstrike on the Médecins Sans Frontières hospital in Kunduz and make the findings public.
“The violations laid bare in this report set in motion a cascade of potential human rights abuses that stretch from Afghanistan to the Mediterranean and beyond, as so many Afghans are driven to seek refuge abroad, taking enormous risks,” UN high commissioner for human rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said in a press statement.
“Every single casualty documented in this report – people killed while praying, working, studying, fetching water, recovering in hospitals – every civilian casualty represents a failure of commitment and should be a call to action for parties to the conflict to take meaningful, concrete steps to reduce civilians’ suffering and increase protection,” Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan and head of UNAMA Tadamichi Yamamoto.
Yamamoto had earlier called the IS suicide attack of 23 July a war crime.