THE war in Afghanistan is killing or wounding increasing numbers of civilians, with women and children showing the sharpest rise in casualties as it enters its 14th year, according to new figures from the UN.
“Afghan civilians have suffered far too long from this destructive conflict. The devastating consequences of this violence against civilians as documented in this report should serve to strengthen the broad conviction that peace is urgently needed,” said Nicholas Haysom, head of the United Nations Assistance Mission to Afghanistan.
The first six months of 2015 saw 13pc rise in child casualties compared with the same period last year and a 23pc increase in the number of women killed or injured. Total casualties were up 1pc from record levels seen in 2014, with 1,591 civilians killed and 3,329 wounded.
The numbers reveal the war’s changing dynamics. After the end of Nato’s combat mission, Afghan government forces are fighting with less airpower and material support.
As a result, the conflict has moved closer to residential areas, where the warring parties are fighting with indiscriminate weapons such as mortars, rockets and grenades. In fact, government forces are responsible for most casualties, 59pc, caused by this type of weapons.
Mortars were, for instance, used on June 5 when Afghan national army soldiers accidentally hit a wedding party on the outskirts of Ghazni, killing eight children. The UN describes how the security forces subsequently gave contradictory explanations, in a sign of a troubling lack of transparency from the government’s side.
While insurgents are still responsible for the majority of civilian casualties, government security forces killed or injured almost 300 more civilians compared to the first half of 2014, which amounts to a 60pc spike. In total, pro-government forces caused 16pc of civilian casualties, of which international forces are responsible for 1pc.
The war’s main killers remain improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and ground engagements. However, a rise in suicide bombings and complex attacks also helps to explain why women and children suffer more than ever.
In April, a suicide bomber on a motorcycle blew himself up outside Kabul Bank on the main street of Jalalabad, killing at least 35 and injuring 125. Mohammad Naeem, 25, heard the explosion, and rushed to the scene, knowing his father worked in the vicinity.
“When I came to the bank, I saw a lot of dead bodies — men, children, women and old people. I found my father. His body was in several pieces. I found his leg and hands in different places,” Naeem told the Guardian over the phone.
“After I found my father’s body, I walked around the dead bodies like a crazy man,” he said. “There are 16 people in my family, and my father was feeding all of them.”
The Jalalabad bombing targeted queuing government workers, whom the Taliban — contrary to international law — don’t consider civilians. In the first
half of 2015, the Taliban claimed 36 attacks on civilian government officials and 18 on judges, prosecutors and judicial staff.
“This report lays bare the heart-rending, prolonged suffering of civilians in Afghanistan, who continue to bear the brunt of the armed conflict and live in insecurity and uncertainty over whether a trip to a bank, a tailoring class, to a court room or a wedding party, may be their last,” said UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein.
With shifting dynamics, the war is also widening geographically. Since spring, the Taliban have sustained an offensive in the north, targeting especially Kunduz province.
The government is increasingly turning to irregular militias for help. But these forces have acted with impunity, says the UN, committing “deliberate killings, assaults, extortion, intimidation and property theft”. In total, militias account for 11pc of civilian casualties caused by pro-government forces.
Abdurrezaq, a village elder from Gur Tepa in Kunduz, told the Guardian that the militias did not bring security. They only increased the chance of getting caught in the crossfire. “Our houses are destroyed but who should we complain to? We are victims of both sides.”
By arrangement with the Guardian
Published in Dawn, August 7th, 2015