US, NATO and Government Forces Are Increasingly Responsible for Civilian Deaths in Afghanistan
November 7, 2016
Max Bearak / The Washington Post
According to a UN agency, it likely that 2016 will be the worst year for Afghanistan's beleaguered civilian population since 2009, when the organization began keeping track. A UN report found that 1,601 Afghans had been killed and 3,655 wounded by July 2016. A full third of the casualties were children, representing an 18 percent increase over last year. Overall, there was a 4.4 percent increase in civilian casualties.
NATO and Government Forces Are Increasingly Responsible for Afghan Civilian Deaths
Max Bearak / The Washington Post
Tala, age 9, an Afghan girl who was wounded in US-led coalition air strike
(November 3, 2016) -- This year is well on its way to be the deadliest for Afghan civilians since the United Nations mission there began documenting those numbers seven years ago. An incident Thursday is a particularly tragic example of how more and more of those deaths are occurring: at the hands of Afghan government forces and their NATO-led coalition allies.
During clashes with Taliban fighters who are trying to recapture the northern city of Kunduz, an errant coalition airstrike killed dozens of civilians. News agencies have been able to confirm 26 deaths, but at least one local government official estimated the toll will reach 100. The US military said that its forces were defending friendly forces and that "all civilian casualty claims will be investigated."
At least 2,562 civilians have been killed this year in Afghanistan, according to the United Nations, which has released only numbers pertaining to the period between January and September. Last year's total was 2,681.
Taliban and other antigovernment forces are responsible for 61 percent of that toll, but those numbers are down 12 percent from the same period last year. On the other hand, 623 civilian deaths are attributable to "pro-government" forces this year, up by 42 percent from last year. Many of them were caused by errant airstrikes.
US attack kills ten children and 2 women in Afghanistan airstrike in Kunar, April 7, 2013
The most notable instance also took place in Kunduz, just over a year ago, when the city had fallen into Taliban control. Acting on faulty intelligence, a US airstrike hit a Doctors Without Borders hospital, killing 42 people. Subsequent reports question whether the Afghan army, which provided the intelligence, in fact wanted the hospital targeted as doctors were thought to have treated Taliban fighters there. Doctors Without Borders called the strike a war crime.
The civilian death toll provided by the United Nations is unlikely to be comprehensive. It is difficult to gather data on killings that happen in Taliban-controlled areas of the country, and more of the country is falling into their hands.
Civilian casualties are a major source of tension between the Afghan government and its NATO allies. With each errant strike, more and more Afghans lose faith in their government, which works hand in hand with its Western allies on intelligence and military operations.
In Kunduz, angry relatives of the victims of Thursday's airstrike tried to parade the bodies of their loved ones through the city in a protest caravan to the provincial governor’s residence. They were stopped by security forces.
See: 8000 Civilian Casualties Reported in US-led War in 2014
Mark Bowden, UN humanitarian coordinator
Civilian Casualties Hit Record
Numbers This Year in Afghanistan
Max Bearak / The Washington Post
(July 25, 2016) -- The UN mission in Afghanistan on Monday reported a worrying increase in the number of civilians killed and wounded in the country this year, making it likely that 2016 will be the worst year since 2009, when the organization began keeping track.
According to the annual midyear report by the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), 1,601 Afghans have been killed and 3,655 wounded so far this year.
A full third of those casualties are children, representing an 18 percent increase over last year. Overall, there was a 4.4 percent increase in civilian casualties.
The numbers in the report are probably not comprehensive. With the Taliban gaining ground in southern Afghanistan, monitoring the effect of the war on civilians there is presumably increasingly difficult. On the other hand, UNAMA doesn't release its data set, so it isn't possible to know for certain whether that assumption is true.
Of the available data on casualties, almost two-thirds were attributed to "antigovernment elements" and a quarter to "pro-government forces." This represents a major increase in casualties caused by the Afghan and US militaries.
Part of that spike is explained by the doubling in civilian casualties caused by airstrikes, though those strikes account for only a small portion of the total. Fifty casualties were attributed to US airstrikes in particular.
Almost 40 percent of civilian casualties this year were caused by "ground engagement." A haunting testimony included in the UNAMA report gives a sense of what that looks like. It comes from an unnamed man in the southern province of Kandahar.
"It was in the evening time and my wife, children, and mother were at home. Taliban attacked an Afghan National Army checkpoint and they both started firing mortars and rockets at each other.
"A mortar round exploded in my house, killing my 8-year-old daughter and injuring my 7-year-old son and my wife. We were hysterical, running from one side of the house to another thinking that another mortar round would hit the house.
"Since that moment, I have no life any more. My mother, brothers, sisters and relatives buried my daughter and took the injured to hospital for treatment. I am in sorrow for the death of my daughter and the injury of my beloved son and wife. Now I cannot afford their treatment or to feed my mother and the rest of my family."
Another major cause of casualties are improvised explosive devices, or IEDs. The report notes that 85 percent of those killed or wounded by IEDs this year are children.
"Platitudes not backed by meaningful action ring hollow over time," said Tadamichi Yamamoto, the United Nations' top official in Afghanistan. "History and the long memory of the Afghan people will judge leaders of all parties to this conflict not by their well-meaning words, but by their conduct."
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