The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan’s (UNAMA) 2016 report shows an increase in conflict related civilian casualties to the highest recorded number since 2009. According to the UNAMA annual report on the Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict, civilian casualties in Afghanistan increased by 3.7% last year, comprising 11,418 conflict-related civilian casualties with 3,498 killed and 7,920 injured. Since 2009 the conflict in Afghanistan has claimed the lives of 24,841 civilians and injured 45,347.
The report has found that the 2016 conflict severely impacted Afghan children, with 923 deaths and 2,589 injuries, a 24 percent increase from 2015 and the highest child casualty rate UNAMA has ever recorded. The number of women killed or injured in conflict, 341 and 877 respectively, decreased by 2 percent from the previous year.
According to the report, attacks by anti-government forces, most significantly the Taliban, accounted for 61 percent of the civilian casualties, with casualties caused by ISIS increasing by ten times in 2016. Airstrikes carried out by the Afghan government and other international forces led to the deaths of 250 civilians and the injury of 340, almost twice the number of casualties as in 2015 and the highest recorded number since 2009.
Just one day after the UNAMA’s report came out, a suicide bomb targeting Supreme Court employees took place in a parking lot near the court in the Afghan capital of Kabul, killing 21 people and wounding 41 others.
The United Nations and Afghan government both reacted to the violence, condemning the attacks on civilians and calling on anti-government forces, as well as the Afghan and international forces, to take urgent steps to end civilian casualties and reduce the use of explosive weapons.
“Unless all parties to the conflict make serious efforts to review and address the consequences of their operations, the levels of civilian casualties, displacement and other types of human suffering are likely to remain at appallingly high levels,” said Tadamichi Yamamoto, the UN Security General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan.
Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights decried the violence, stating, “Children have been killed, blinded, crippled – or inadvertently caused the death of their friends – while playing with unexploded ordinance that is negligently left behind by parties to the conflict. Women continue to be brutally punished in parallel so-called ‘justice’ processes while religious minorities are targeted as they pray in their mosques.”
The Afghan government released a statement saying that it is taking all necessary steps to protect the lives of civilians and minimize damage to property during military operations. “The Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan puts the safety of lives and properties of the civilians among its fundamental agenda and main objectives. Government will consider legal action in case damage is caused by the security and defense forces to civilians,” reads the press release. The press release concludes that, “the president once again clarifies that the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan instead considers the Taliban and other terrorist groups accountable to ensure the safety of people’s lives and properties.”
Despite the persistent terrorist attacks, Afghanistan is a nation that continues to make considerable progress. The most encouraging advancements are the falling infant, child and maternal mortality rates, and the increase in access to trained midwives. Additionally, women are being encouraged to participate and are actively taking roles in STEM work, and some 80 percent of Afghan women now have regular or occasional access to mobile phones. There are now distance learning literacy programs sponsored by USAID and mobile health apps for use during pregnancy and other health conditions.
Media Resources: TOLO 2/8/17, 2/6/17, 2/7/17, 2/6/17; Feminist Majority Foundation 12/20/16