The number of civilians killed and wounded in violence across war-weary Afghanistan fell by 15% last year compared to 2019, according to a United Nations report released Tuesday.
The U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan and the U.N. Human Rights Office attributed the drop in civilian casualties in part to an apparent tactical change by insurgents to targeted killings, fewer suicide bombings and a stark drop in casualties attributed to international military forces.
Still, Afghanistan remains among the deadliest places in the world to be a civilian. A distressing feature of the conflict remains the disproportionate impact on Afghan women and children, who make up 43% of all casualties.
The attacks targeting civilians include assaults on members of the judiciary, media and activists. Also targeted have been religious minorities, especially the Shiite Muslim population, most of whom also belong to the Hazara ethnic group, and the Sikh population.
The overall number of civilian casualties in 2020 of 8,820 — including 3,035 killed and 5,785 others wounded — fell below 10,000 for the first time since 2013. Last year’s total was 15% down compared to 2019, the U.N. said.
Afghanistan has seen a nationwide spike in bombings, targeted killings and violence on the battlefield as peace negotiations in Qatar between the Taliban and the Afghan government have stalled. It’s been over a month since the sides last met to discuss how to proceed.
Meanwhile, President Joe Biden’s administration is reviewing the U.S.-Taliban peace deal that was signed Feb. 29 last year. As part of it, Washington committed to a May 1 withdrawal of all foreign troops from Afghanistan.
Afghanistan peace negotiations between representatives of the Afghan government and the Taliban in Qatar began on Sept. 12 but have failed to alleviate the scale of civilian harm — a key indicator of violence levels. Instead, there was an escalation of violence in the fourth quarter of the year.
For the first time since it began systematic documentation in 2009, UNAMA tallied an increase civilian casualties recorded in the fourth quarter compared with the third quarter. In addition, this period marked a 45% increase in civilian casualties compared to the same three months in 2019, especially from the use of improvised explosive devices and targeted killings.
In October, civilian casualties were the highest of any month in 2020, and in November UNAMA documented the highest number of civilian casualties of any November since it started systematic documentation in 2009. Alongside the overall increase in violence as the year ended, the population was confronted with a spate of targeted killings, referred to by many as “assassinations,” of civilians, including media, civil society activists, members of the judiciary and the civilian government administration, as well as civilian family members of combatants.
“2020 could have been the year of peace in Afghanistan. Instead, thousands of Afghan civilians perished due to the conflict,” said Deborah Lyons, the U.N.’s special representative of the secretary-general for Afghanistan. “This important report has the overriding objective of providing the parties responsible with the facts, and recommendations, so they take immediate and …read more
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