10,000 Afghan civilian casualties in 2017
More than 10,000 civilians lost their lives or suffered injuries during 2017, according to the latest annual UN report documenting the impact of the armed conflict on civilians in Afghanistan.
A total of 10,453 civilian casualties - 3,438 people killed and 7,015 injured - were documented in the 2017 Annual Report released by the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) and the UN Human Rights Office. Although this figure represents a decrease of nine per cent compared with 2016, the report highlights the high number of casualties caused by suicide bombings and other attacks using improvised explosive devices (IEDs).
The second leading cause of civilian casualties in 2017 was ground engagements between anti-government elements and pro-government forces, although there was a decrease of 19 per cent from the record levels seen in 2016.
Women and children remained heavily affected by conflict-related violence. UNAMA documented that, in 2017, 359 women were killed - a rise of five per cent - and 865 injured. Child casualties - 861 killed and 2,318 injured - decreased by 10 per cent compared with 2016.
“Afghan civilians have been killed going about their daily lives - traveling on a bus, praying in a mosque, simply walking past a building that was targeted. The people of Afghanistan, year after year, continue to live in insecurity and fear, while those responsible for ending lives and blighting lives escape punishment,” said UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein.
“Such attacks are prohibited under international humanitarian law and are likely, in most cases, to constitute war crimes. The perpetrators must be identified and held accountable,” he said.
The report observes that the number of airstrikes conducted by international military forces and Afghan air forces increased significantly. The report commends actions taken by the Government of Afghanistan and Pro-Government security forces in 2017 to protect communities from harm, highlighting the 23 per cent reduction in civilian casualties attributed to pro-government forces.
According to the report, a disturbing increase was seen in attacks against places of worship, religious leaders and worshippers. Such attacks killed 202 people and injured another 297 during 38 attacks last year. Islamic State militants are responsible for a large number of these attacks, especially on Shia mosques.
Among its recommendations, the report urges parties to the conflict to take all feasible precautions to protect civilians and civilian installations. It calls on anti-government elements to cease the deliberate targeting of civilians and civilian objects and the indiscriminate and disproportionate use of all IEDs.
Despite the decline in overall figures, Danielle Bell, Unama’s human rights director, said: “It is the fourth consecutive year where we’ve seen more than 10,000 civilians killed or injured.”
Almost four decades of conflict has led to the education of successive generations of Afghan refugee children in particular being disrupted or forgotten. They face the threat of a lost generation in a population that has already suffered enough.
Last year, the UN changed its categorization of Afghanistan from post-conflict to a country in active conflict.
It is notable that despite the U.S. Air Force tripled the number of bombs dropped in Afghanistan apparently against the Taliban, they continue to terrorize a significant portion of Afghan territory. Bill Roggio, a senior fellow with the Foundation for Defense of Democracies disputed that assessment somewhat, saying that the Taliban controls or contests about 40 percent of Afghanistan — more than twice the area it had in 2015. Even the Taliban’s recent attacks (in late 2017) come in the wake of President Donald Trump’s expansion of the American air campaign in the country.
Afghan government and U.S. air strikes aren’t only killing militants. While militant violence cause most civilian casualties in 2017, deaths and injuries from government and international aerial operations jumped 52 percent in 2017, according to Human Rights Watch.