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Afghan casualties from air strikes show startling rise, says UN report

Updated October 11, 2018

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A file photo of US soldiers in Afghanistan.
A file photo of US soldiers in Afghanistan.

WASHINGTON: The number of civilians killed or injured by air strikes in Afghanistan has risen to a startling 39 percent year on year, according to a UN report released on Wednesday.

Most of those killed were women and children and US and Afghan aircraft are almost equally responsible for the casualties, the report added.

The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) documented 8,050 civilian casualties — 2,798 deaths and 5,252 injuries — from Jan 1 to Sept 30 this year. Comparing the statistics with those from the same period last year, the UN agency noted that more civilians had been killed in air strikes so far this year than all of last year.

The report, however, also pointed out that “the combined use of suicide and non-suicide improvised explosive devices (IEDs) remained the leading cause of civilian casualties” in the first nine months of this year, causing nearly half of all civilian casualties.

The majority resulted from suicide and complex attacks, which increased both in frequency and in lethality to civilians, driving the overall rise in civilian deaths.

The UN report showed airstrikes, carried out by both US and Afghan aircraft, have killed or injured 649 civilians so far this year, 39 percent higher than the same first nine months in 2017, and more than the 631 killed or injured by airstrikes in all of last year. Sixty percent of this year’s casualties have been women and children.

The report showed that total civilian deaths across Afghanistan — due to various violent attacks — stood at 2,798 for the first nine months of this year, slightly up on the same period in 2017.

Ground engagements were the second leading cause of civilian casualties, followed by targeted and deliberate killings, aerial operations, and explosive remnants of war.

Commenting on the UN report, CNN underlined the need for “fresh scrutiny on the use of air power by the United States and its Afghan partners at a time of near-record bombing and increasing violence”.

“The rise comes after the departed US commander for the war promised a ‘tidal wave of air power’ to combat a resurgent Taliban,” CNN added, noting that President Donald Trump has “personally delineated a strategy for victory in Afghanistan, and vowed to ‘push onward to victory with power in our hearts’”.

The UN report shows that civilians living in the provinces of Nangarhar, Kabul, Helmand, Ghazni, and Faryab were the most affected by the conflict.

The UNAMA noted with extreme concern that Nangarhar province recorded the highest number of civilian casualties in the first nine months of 2018 — 1,494 civilian casualties (554 deaths and 940 injured), more than double the number of civilian casualties recorded in that province during the same period last year. Nangarhar borders Pakistan.

Published in Dawn, October 11th, 2018