The number of civilians killed or wounded in Afghanistan last year was the highest recorded since 2009, the United Nations said on Sunday, with children paying a particularly heavy price.
There were 11,002 civilian casualties in 2015 including 3,545 deaths, the UN said in its annual report on Afghan civilians in armed conflict, a four per cent rise over the previous high in 2014.
“The harm done to civilians is totally unacceptable,” said Nicholas Haysom, the UN special representative for Afghanistan. “We call on those inflicting this pain on the people of Afghanistan to take concrete action to protect civilians and put a stop to the killing and maiming.”
Fighting and attacks in populated areas and major cities were described as the main causes of civilian deaths in 2015, the report stated.
Including Taliban-claimed attacks, the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan assigned responsibility for 62% of total civilian casualties in 2015 to anti-government elements. But the report also noted a 28% year-on-year surge in the number of casualties caused by pro-government forces, including the Afghan army and international troops.
The report criticised Afghan forces in particular for their reliance on explosives in populated areas.
“Why did they fire this rocket? Why was it necessary?” the father of a man killed in shelling by the Afghan army in a village in Wardak province in December was quoted as saying in the report. Nine people died in that attack, according to the report, highlighting the dangers to civilians during ground engagements.
One in every four casualties in 2015 was a child, with the report documenting a 14% increase in child casualties over the year. “Tell these people not to attack children,” it quotes a 12-year-old survivor of a mortar attack that killed four others, as saying. “I want to study, not to die.”
Women also paid a heavy price, with a 37% surge in female casualties. One in every ten casualties recorded was a woman, the report said.
Chillingly, the report documented a doubling of civilian casualties due to the deliberate targeting by militants of judges, prosecutors and judicial institutions. There were 188 such cases last year, of which 46 involved fatalities. The Taliban claimed 95% of such targeted attacks, the report said.
While ground engagements were the largest cause of civilian casualties, improvised explosive devices came second, the report said, adding that the use of such weaponry violated international law and could constitute war crimes.
It reflects “a disconnect between commitments made and the harsh reality on the ground,” said the director of the UN’s human rights mission in Afghanistan, Danielle Bell.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 15th, 2016.