Kabul: Civilian casualties in Afghanistan reached record levels in the first half of 2021, marked by a particularly sharp increase since May when the US military forces began their withdrawal and the Taliban intensified their offensive, the UN said in a new report on Monday.
The UN report said that 1,659 civilians were killed and 3,254 others were wounded — a 47 percent increase compared to the same period in 2020.
The United Nations Assistance Mission to Afghanistan (UNAMA) report said that civilian casualties are set to hit unprecedented highs in 2021 unless urgent action is taken to stem the violence.
The UNAMA report ‘Afghanistan Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict Midyear Update 2021’ said the acute rise in the number of civilians killed and injured in the period from 1 May 2021 is of serious concern, with almost as many civilian casualties in the May-June period as recorded in the entire preceding four months.
The number of civilian casualties during May and June was 2,392 — with 783 killed and 1,609 injured, which is the highest for those months since UNAMA began its documentation in 2009.
“I implore the Taliban and Afghan leaders to take heed of the conflict’s grim and chilling trajectory and its devastating impact on civilians. The report provides a clear warning that unprecedented numbers of Afghan civilians will perish and be maimed this year if the increasing violence is not stemmed,” said Deborah Lyons, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan.
The UN envoy, who is also the head of UNAMA, called on the Taliban and Afghan leaders to, intensify their “efforts at the negotiating table, stop the Afghan against Afghan fighting.”
It said that most of the battles between the Afghan forces and Taliban have taken place outside cities so far, and voiced grave concern that if intensive military action is undertaken in urban areas with high population densities, “the consequences for Afghan civilians could be catastrophic”.
“The pursuit of a military solution will only increase the suffering of the Afghan people,” the report says.
The UN reminded the parties of their obligations under international law to protect civilians, and highlighted their stated commitment to do so in the joint statement issued on 18 July 2021 by representatives of the Afghan government and the Taliban at their Doha meeting, when they agreed to prevent harm to civilians.
The report noted that what is “particularly shocking” and of “deep concern” is that women, boys and girls made up “close to half of all civilian casualties in the first half of 2021,”.
It said Anti-Government Elements (AGEs) were responsible for 64 per cent of the total civilian casualties: 39 per cent by Taliban, nearly nine per cent by Islamic State-Khorasan Province (ISIL-KP), and 16 per cent by undetermined AGEs.
Pro-Government Forces (PGFs) were responsible for 25 per cent of civilian casualties: 23 per cent by Afghan national security forces, and two per cent by pro-Government armed groups or undetermined PGFs.
UNAMA attributed 11 per cent of all civilian casualties to ‘crossfire’ during ground engagements.
The leading causes of civilian casualties were the extensive use of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) by AGEs, ground engagements between parties, targeted killings by AGEs, and air strikes by the Afghan Air Force, it said.
It voiced deep concern about the continuation of attacks by Anti-Government Elements “deliberately targeting civilians, particularly through the use of IEDs and shootings, including targeting of civilian government workers, human rights defenders, media workers, religious elders, and humanitarian workers, and sectarian-motivated attacks”.
“Children were on at least one occasion deliberately targeted. The most shocking incident being the 8 May attack outside the Sayed ul-Shuhuda school in Kabul, which resulted in more than 300 civilian casualties, mostly school girls, including 85 killed, for which no AGE claimed responsibility,” it noted.
UNAMA recorded a resurgence of deliberate sectarian-motivated attacks against the Shi’a Muslim religious minority, most of whom also belong to the Hazara ethnic minority, nearly all claimed by ISIL-KP.