ABOUT 1000 AFGHANS KILLED IN FIRST FOUR MONTHS OF 2015
Afghan civilian casualties on the rise
NEW DELHI: In more grim news from Afghanistan, the United Nations has estimated that 1000 civilians have died in the country in the first four months of 2015. Another 2000 civilians have been injured. The numbers represent a 50 percent increase from the same period last year, worrying as 2014 has been the most deadly year in Afghanistan yet.
“As of 30 April, 1,989 Afghans were injured as a result of the conflict and 978 Afghan civilians killed, throughout the country,” Mark Bowden, the UN Secretary-General’s Deputy Special Representative in the country said, noting that the number of wounded at the Emergency Hospital in Kabul illustrates the devastating impact of the conflict. “The doctors there told me that they are seeing a 50 per cent increase in the number of civilians injured this year compared to the same period last year,” he said.
Speaking at the Second Independent Media and Civil Society Forum in Kabul, the UN envoy, who is also the deputy head of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), said the intensifying conflict in 2015 is taxing humanitarian capacities.
“At this period of increased need, it is particularly disturbing to note that humanitarian aid workers are increasingly becoming targets themselves,” he said, while calling attention to the crucial role civil society plays in holding non-state actors accountable for their actions.
“It is through its engagement with the media that civil society can advocate more strongly about the conflict and the resulting humanitarian situation,” he stressed. “The relationship between civil society, media and humanitarian action is strong.”
If the trend continues, then 2015 is poised to be worse than 2014 in terms of civilian casualties. According to a recent UN report, the number of civilians killed or wounded in the troubled country climbed by 22 percent in 2014 to reach the highest level since 2009.
The UN agency documented 10,548 civilian casualties in 2014, the highest number of civilian deaths and injuries recorded in a single year since 2009. They include 3,699 civilian deaths, up 25 per cent from 2013 and 6,849 civilian injuries, up 21 per cent from 2013. Since 2009 -- when UNAMA began tracking casualties -- the armed conflict in Afghanistan has caused 47,745 civilian casualties with 17,774 Afghan civilians killed and 29,971 injured.
The UN says that Taliban militants -- who have been waging an insurgency in Afghanistan since a US-led invasion toppled their government 13 years ago -- were responsible for 72 per cent of all civilian casualties, with government forces and foreign troops responsible for 14 percent.
For the first time since 2009, more Afghan civilians were killed and injured in ground engagements than by improvised explosive devices (IEDs) or any other tactic. The report found that civilian deaths and injuries from ground operations surged by 54 per cent making them the leading cause of civilian casualties and the biggest killers of Afghan women and children in 2014.
The rise in civilian casualties in 2014 resulted mainly from increased ground engagements across Afghanistan in which parties to the conflict increasingly used explosive weapons systems such as mortars, rockets and grenades, sometimes indiscriminately, in civilian-populated areas with devastating consequences for civilians. The increased indiscriminate use of IEDs and increased number of suicide attacks by Anti-Government Elements added to the rising civilian casualties in 2014.
“In communities across Afghanistan, increased ground fighting among parties to the conflict and more IED attacks exacted a heavy toll on Afghan civilians,” said the United Nations SecretaryGeneral’s Special Representative for Afghanistan and head of UNAMA, Nicholas Haysom. “Rising civilian deaths and injuries in 2014 attests to a failure to fulfil commitments to protect Afghan civilians from harm. Parties to the conflict should understand the impact of their actions and take responsibility for them, uphold the values they claim to defend, and make protecting civilians their first priority. We need to see concrete steps and a real drop in civilian casualties in 2015.”
The report also noted that women and children were particularly hard hit by the armed conflict and increased ground engagements in 2014. UNAMA documented a 40 per cent increase in children casualties with 2,474 children casualties (714 killed and 1,760 injured) compared to 2013. Women casualties increased by 21 per cent with 298 women killed and 611 injured.
To highlight the broader social and economic impact of the conflict on the lives of Afghan women, UNAMA interviewed 60 women from all regions in Afghanistan whose husbands, all civilians, were killed or seriously injured from conflict-related violence in 2014. UNAMA found that women who were left as sole income-providers for their households after the death or injury of their husbands often experienced long-term negative social and economic consequences, with poverty forcing many women to give their daughters in marriage in exchange for debts or to take their children out of school often to work. Widowed women were often particularly vulnerable to other forms of violence and abuse from family and community members. These findings call for urgent action by the Government of Afghanistan to address the basic needs of this group of very vulnerable and often marginalized women and their children, the report says.
“For Afghan women and children, the anguish of losing a husband and father in the conflict is often only the beginning of their suffering and hardship,” said the UNAMA Director of Human Rights, Georgette Gagnon. “The long-term social and economic consequences are devastating affecting the most vulnerable the hardest. After a year in which conflict-related violence led by ground engagements killed and injured record numbers of women and children, the destruction and damage to Afghan lives must be met with a new commitment by all parties to avoid harm to Afghan civilians.”
The rise in numbers is attributed to Taliban activity, with the group determined to push through with attacks. In 2015, the group has carried out a string of attacks as part of its “summer offensive” -- when better weather makes way for increased fighting.
The declaration of the summer offensive follows news of a peace dialogue between the Taliban and the Afghan government. Afghan President Ashraf Ghani recently said "the grounds for peace have never been better in the last 36 years,” as reports indicated that the Taliban -- for the first time in 13 years -- had, under the pressure of Pakistan, agreed to peace talks with the Afghan leadership.
The timing was important as the reports emerged before the start of the summer fighting season, sparking hope that Afghanistan could be witness to a more peaceful summer as Taliban insurgents enter a dialogue process and foreign troops depart.
However, the dialogue seemed set to fail before it even commenced. One reason for this was the White House’s announcement that the United States will maintain its current 9800 troops in Afghanistan through the end of 2015, as opposed to an earlier plan of cutting the number to 5500. The Taliban reacted sharply to the statement with Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid saying, “This damages all the prospects for peace … This means the war will go on until they are defeated.”
Although the US’ announcement no doubt contributed to the talks failing, other factors would have also made the talks a difficult proposition. For one, the rift between the top two leaders of the militant group. The two in question are political leader Akhtar Mohammad Mansour, who favors negotiation, and battlefield commander Abdul Qayum Zakir, a former Guantanamo Bay detainee, who opposes any dialogue with the Afghan leadership. Sources state that the two met recently to address their personal differences, but no headway could be made on the issue of talks, with Zakir of the view that the Afghan government was illegitimate and that real power remained with the US any way.
The announcement of the change in plans of troop withdrawal tilted the position in favour of Zakir, with the Taliban command being clear from the start that the removal of foreign troops would be one of the prerequisites for the commencement of talks.
Given the rise in casualties, a solution is more crucial than ever before.