The number of Afghans killed or wounded by airstrikes rose 39 percent in the first nine months of 2018, the United Nations said Wednesday, as the overall number of civilian casualties remained at “extreme levels.”
Airstrikes killed or wounded 649 Afghans, more than any full-year period since the U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan began keeping records in 2009, as U.S. and Afghan forces stepped up aerial bombardments.
That figure accounted for eight percent of overall civilian casualties for the January to September period, which slipped to 8,050 – 2,798 dead and 5,252 injured – UNAMA said in a report released on Wednesday, October 10.
“Every civilian death leaves a family devastated, grieving and struggling to come to terms with the loss, and each civilian injured or maimed causes untold suffering,” said Danielle Bell, UNAMA’s human rights chief.
The majority of civilian casualties were attributed to militants. The Taliban, Afghanistan’s largest militant group, were responsible for 35 percent and Islamic State Khorasan Province 25 percent, UNAMA said.
Twenty-two percent of civilian casualties (761 deaths and 992 injuries) were attributed to pro-government forces.
Ghazni was the worst affected: As of October 7, UNAMA had verified 210 civilian casualties (69 deaths and 141 injured) which occurred between August 10-15 when the Taliban occupied Ghazni city, the majority from ground fighting between Taliban and pro-government forces, as well as casualties from aerial operations.
International forces accounted for 51 percent of the civilian casualties caused by airstrikes, the report said. Afghan forces made up 38 percent.
The United States is the only foreign force known to carry out air strikes in Afghanistan.
U.S. and Afghan forces have dramatically increased air offensives against Taliban and Islamic State insurgents in the past year as they try to get the upper hand in the 17-year war.
U.S. forces employed 746 weapons in July, which was the highest monthly total since November 2010, the most recent U.S. Air Force Central Command data shows.
That is more than double the 350 munitions used in July 2017, a month before U.S. President Donald Trump announced his new strategy for Afghanistan that gave American forces greater leeway to go after militants.
Afghanistan’s fledgling air force has also accelerated bombardments as the United States beefs up the country’s aerial capability with more aircraft and better weapons.
The latest civilian casualties report follows two airstrikes in recent weeks that UNAMA’s initial findings show killed more than 20 people from two families.
Ground engagement casualty decrease
Ground engagements accounted for 29 percent of civilian casualties, causing a total of 2,311 including 605 deaths.
While remaining the second leading cause, civilian casualties from ground engagements decreased to the lowest level since 2013.
Anti-government forces were responsible for 38 percent of civilian casualties from ground engagements, pro-government forces for 31 percent, while 32 percent were jointly attributed.
This decrease may, however, be the result of anti-government forces shifting to increased IED use, and pro-government forces increasing airstrikes, the report says.
It also suggests that all sides “undertook measures to protect civilians from harm during ground operations.”
UNAMA said that sources have reported that civilians are increasingly being warned of ground operations in advance, and that ANDSF are less frequently using heavy weapons in areas with civilian populations.
Improvised explosive devices
Improvised explosive devices, including suicide bombs, remained the leading cause of civilian casualties in the first nine months, the report said.
In a special report on Sunday, UNAMA said suicide bombs caused 2,343 civilian casualties including 714 deaths, more than any other tactic, including ground fighting.
Civilian casualties from all types of IEDs, including suicide bombs and pressure-plate mines, rose 21 percent from a year earlier to 3,634, including 1,065 deaths.
UNAMA warned earlier that the increasing number of “deliberate and indiscriminate attacks” against civilians constituted “serious violations of international humanitarian law” that could amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity.
While the ISKP has fewer fighters than the Taliban, it has carried out most of the devastating suicide attacks in urban areas of Afghanistan in recent months.
The eastern province of Nangarhar recorded 1,494 casualties, more than double the same period last year and the highest number for any province.
A record number of civilians were killed in the first half of 2018, underscoring the growing violence that has been a trend since NATO combat forces withdrew from the country in 2014.
The latest figures come as Afghans brace for more violence ahead of parliamentary elections scheduled for October 20.
With reporting from AFP