UN: Civilian Casualties in Afghanistan Reach Record Highs
July 27, 2016
Rebecca Kheel / The Hill
Following a depressingly familiar trend, a new UN report has found record levels of violence against Afghan civilians in the first half of 2016, with 1,601 killed and 3,565 wounded -- the highest number of casualties since 2009 and on track to break the record level set in 2015. Children are increasingly the targets of this rising violence, with the new report including 388 children killed and 1,121 injured.
NEW YORK (July 25, 2016) -- Civilian casualties in Afghanistan reached record highs in the first half of 2016, with 5,166 people killed or injured, according to a United Nations report released Monday.
"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," Tadamichi Yamamoto, the UN secretary-general's special representative for Afghanistan, said in a statement.
Underscoring the risk to civilians, the report was released days after at least 80 people were killed in a bloody attack in Kabul.
On Saturday, twin bombings -- the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) claimed responsibility -- struck a protest being conducted by Afghanistan's mainly Shiite Hazara minority.
The attack is the first time ISIS had struck the Afghan capital.
In addition to the deaths, more than 230 people were injured. Most of the victims were civilians.
The UN report does not include this weekend's attack. But it underscores the report's finding that complex and suicide attacks accounted for a higher percentage of the casualties than during previous six-month periods.
In the first six months of 2016, 1,601 civilians were killed and 3,565 were injured, according to the report.
Though the overall number of casualties was the highest since recording began in 2009, the number of deaths actually decreased 1 percent from the same period last year. Still, injuries were up 6 percent.
Of the causalities in the first half of 2016, 1,509 were children. That breaks down to 388 children killed and 1,121 injured.
"The family that lost a breadwinner, forcing the children to leave school and struggle to make ends meet; the driver who lost his limbs, depriving him of his livelihood; the man who went to the bazaar to shop for his children only to return home to find them dead; the broken back and leg that has never been treated because the family cannot afford the cost of treatment; the parents who collected their son's remains in a plastic bag," UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein said in a statement.
"In just the past six months, there have been at least 5,166 such stories -- of which one-third involve the killing or maiming of children, which is particularly alarming and shameful."
Though ground engagements continued to account for the highest percentage of casualties, 38 percent, complex and suicide attacks accounted for 20 percent, up from 17 percent during the last six months of 2015.
Casualties from improvised explosive devices were down from 21 percent at the end of 2015 to 17 percent in the beginning of 2016.
Anti-government forces were responsible for 60 percent of casualties, while pro-government troops were responsible for 23 percent, according to the report. The rest were attributed to both or unattributed.
Of the casualties caused by pro-government forces, 1 percent were attributed to international forces, which would include the United States.
Civilian casualties from aerial operations more than doubled in the first half of 2016 compared to the same period a year ago, with 57 deaths and 104 injuries. For the first time, the Afghan Air Force caused the majority of those casualties, or 69 percent, compared with 31 percent from international forces.
The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) "recommends that current levels of support from international military forces to Afghan Air Force be increased in order to strengthen the capacity of Afghan security forces to mitigate civilian casualties in air operations," the report says.
"Enhanced support could include the provision of additional training, closer monitoring/mentoring and assisting with the development and implementation of clearer tactical guidance and strengthened of rules of engagement."
The report also reiterated concerns about the United States' investigation into its bombing of a Doctors Without Borders hospital last year.
After reviewing the redacted investigation report, which was released in April, the UN mission believes there are grounds for further investigation into whether US personnel committed war crimes, according to the report, since the investigation did not address the issue of criminal liability for recklessness.
"UNAMA therefore reiterates its call for a fully independent, impartial, transparent and effective investigation of the airstrike on the [Doctors Without Borders] hospital," the report said. "Any personnel found to have committed such crimes must be held accountable. If the investigation finds that no criminal charges are warranted, there must be a clear, public accounting as to why such a decision was taken."
ISIS, which attacked both government and Taliban forces, was responsible for 122 civilian casualties -- 25 deaths and 97 injuries -- according to the report. That's up from 13 casualties during the same period last year.
The report documented examples of targeted killings, a complex attack and threats by ISIS.
"On 16 April, ISIL/Daesh shot and killed two civilian men while the men worked on their farm in Chaparhar district, Nangarhar province," the report said, as an example of an attack, using alternative names for the terror group. "ISIL/Daesh reportedly accused the men of providing intelligence to Taliban."
Though ISIS prevents children's access to education, the group refrained from targeting healthcare facilities, the report added.
Yamamoto and Zeid said casualties only provide a snapshot of the suffering civilians have enduring in the ongoing conflict.
"The protracted conflict," Yamamoto said, "has meant that access to education and healthcare, to livelihood and shelter, to the freedom of movement and to a whole host of civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights has been severely curtailed for millions of Afghans for far too long."
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