AFGHANISTAN: Afghan civilian casualties soar to record high, UN says

An Afghan man prays in front of the graves of victims of a suicide attack in Kabul,  July 25 2016 - Rahmat Gul/AP Photos

An Afghan man prays in front of the graves of victims of a suicide attack in Kabul, July 25 2016 – Rahmat Gul/AP Photos

thenational.ae Kabul — Civilian casualties in Afghanistan soared to a record high in the first half of 2016, the UN said on Monday.

Children in particular are paying a heavy price for growing insecurity as the conflict escalates, said the UN report which comes days after the deadliest attack in Kabul since the Taliban were ousted from power in 2001.

Between January and June, 1,601 civilians were killed and 3,565 were wounded. It was a four per cent increase in casualties compared to the same period last year, the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (Unama) said.

The casualties have reached their highest level since the UN began issuing its authoritative reports in 2009.

“Every single casualty documented in this report – people killed while praying, working, studying, fetching water, recovering in hospitals – every civilian casualty represents a failure of commitment and should be a call to action for parties to the conflict to take meaningful steps to reduce suffering,” Unama chief Tadamichi Yamamoto said.

The casualties include 1,509 children – or about one-third of the total, a figure the UN described as “alarming and shameful”. It was the highest toll ever recorded by the UN over a six-month period.

The statistics are a grim indicator of growing insecurity in Afghanistan as the Taliban step up their nationwide insurgency and the ISIL group seeks to expand their foothold in the east of the country.

The UN report said insurgent groups including the Taliban were responsible for the majority – 60 per cent – of civilian casualties.

But it also reported a 47 per cent increase in the number of casualties caused by pro-government forces, compared to the same period last year.

“The testimony of victims and their families brings into agonising focus the tragedy of … this protracted conflict since 2009,” said Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

“The family that lost a breadwinner, forcing the children to leave school and struggle to make ends meet; the driver who lost his limbs, depriving him of his livelihood; the man who went to the bazaar to shop for his children only to return home to find them dead.”

The report comes after the deadliest attack for 15 years in Kabul on Saturday killed 80 people and left hundreds maimed, an assault claimed by ISIL.

The twin bombings tore through crowds of minority Shiite Hazaras as they gathered to demand that a multi-million-dollar power line pass through their electricity-starved province of Bamiyan, one of the most deprived areas of Afghanistan. Those figures were excluded in the UN report.

But the assault illustrates the report’s finding that suicide bombings and complex attacks are now hurting more civilians than roadside bombs.

“Parties to the conflict must cease the deliberate targeting of civilians and the use of heavy weaponry in civilian-populated areas,” Mr Al Hussein said.

“There must be an end to the prevailing impunity enjoyed by those responsible for civilian casualties – no matter who they are.”

The report said that growing air strikes by Afghan forces also contributed to the rise in civilian casualties as new aircraft were deployed.

It also voiced concern over the human rights violations of pro-government militia groups, which act outside the law in some Afghan provinces.

* Agence France-Presse