UN reports increase in Afghanistan civilian deaths
Civilian loss of life has gone up in comparison to last year, the UN reported. As attacks by anti-government forces persist, humanitarian leaders urged people not to forget the "national tragedy of Afghanistan."
According to a mid-year report released Monday that includes figures from the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), 1,662 civilians were killed in the first sixth months of 2017, and 3,581 were injured.
The report said that 40 percent of the civilian lives lost were due to violence from anti-government forces, such as the Taliban and the so-called "Islamic State" (IS), using improvised explosive devices (IEDs) or carrying out suicide attacks.
Complex attacks, often highly coordinated and involving more than one perpetrator and two or more types of weapons, increased 15 percent over last year, killing 259 and injuring 892. Many of those causalities came from a single attack in Kabul in late May, when a truck bomb exploded during the busy morning hours killing at least 92 civilians and injuring around 500, UNAMA said. Other estimates put the death toll at over 150 civilians.
Deaths in the Afghan capital alone accounted for 19 percent of the total killed.
The UN report also revealed that the number of women and children casualties has risen due to the use of pressure-plate IEDs and aerial operations in densely populated areas. A total of 174 women have been killed since the start of 2017 and 462 have been injured, while the numbers for children were 436 and 1,141 respectively.
Repeated attacks in Afghanistan over the past several months have killed and wounded hundreds of innocent Afghans, and shown the world the fragile and worsening state of security in the conflict-stricken country. The incidents have plunged war-weary Afghan citizens into a state of despair and highlighted the limitations faced by the government in Kabul in ensuring public security.
A long series of attacks
The violent incidents have made Afghanistan once again a staple of international headlines. Outfits like the Taliban and the "Islamic State" (IS) have claimed responsibility for the attacks. The Afghan government is under heavy pressure to restore security and take back territory controlled by a number of insurgent groups, including the Taliban and IS.
Last week, the Taliban announced the start of their annual spring offensive, dismissing an offer of peace talks by President Ashraf Ghani. The militants, fighting to restore their version of strict Islamic law to Afghanistan, said their campaign was a response to a more aggressive US military strategy adopted last year, which aims to force the militants into peace talks.
Trump's Afghanistan policy
US President Donald Trump unveiled a new strategy for Afghanistan last year, vowing to deploy more troops, on top of the 11,000 already in the country, to train and advise Afghan security forces. Trump also pledged to support Afghan troops in their war against the Taliban and maintain American presence in the country for as long as there was a need for it.
Afghan peace process
Despite President Ghani's offer in February for peace talks "without preconditions," the Taliban have shown no interest, dismissing the peace overtures as a "conspiracy." Observers say it is unlikely that the militant group will engage in any negotiations, as they currently have the upper hand on the battleground. The Taliban now control more Afghan districts than at any other time since 2001.
Pakistan has been under pressure from Kabul and Washington to stop offering safe havens to militants blamed for attacks in Afghanistan, a charge Islamabad denies and insists that its influence over the insurgents has been exaggerated. Kabul and Islamabad regularly trade accusations of harboring the other country's militants and the harsh language has underscored the strains between them.
Role of the warlords
Apart from the Taliban, Afghan warlords exercise massive influence in the country. Last year, Hizb-i-Islami leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar returned to Kabul after a 20-year exile to play an active role in Afghan politics. In September 2016, the Afghan government signed a deal with Hekmatyar in the hope that other warlords and militant groups would seek better ties with Kabul.
An inefficient government
In the midst of an endless battle for power, President Ghani's approval ratings continue to plummet. Rampant corruption in the Afghan government and a long tug-of-war within the US-brokered national unity government has had a negative impact on the government's efforts to eradicate terrorism.
The toll from Afghan security forces
Civilian causalities from ground operations by Afghan security forces were lower than than those from attacks by anti-government forces. The Afghan forces' efforts to push out IS and Taliban fighters led to 327 civilian deaths and 618 injuries, a 10 percent drop in comparison to last year. Still, the report urged government forces to stop using mortars and rockets and to disband pro-government militias in order to further reduce the toll on civilians.
In light of the report's release, the UN Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, pleaded for the public to look beyond the numbers cited and remember all aspects of the "sheer human tragedy" that is occurring across war-torn Afghanistan.
"Many Afghan civilians are suffering psychological trauma, having lost family and friends, and are living in fear knowing the risks they face as they go about their daily lives," Al Hussein said in statement. "Many more have been forced from their homes and suffered lasting damage to their health, education and livelihoods. The continuing national tragedy of Afghanistan must not be overlooked.”
Since January 2009, UN figures show that more than 25,600 Afghan civilians have died and another 49,000 have been injured.