The number of civilians in Afghanistan killed and wounded at the hands of pro-government forces increased in the first three months of the year even as the overall number of civilian casualties in the country fell, the United Nations said in a report released on Wednesday, April 24.
In its first quarterly report of 2019, the U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan said the number of civilians killed and injured in the country’s ongoing conflict had fallen 23% from the same period last year. UNAMA documented 581 deaths and 1,192 injuries, including 582 children. The number is the lowest for a first quarter since 2013.
The overall reduction of civilian casualties was driven by a decrease in civilian casualties by suicide improvised explosive device attacks, the report said.
But UNAMA said it was concerned by “significant increases in civilian casualties from aerial and search operations which drove an overall increase in civilian casualties by Pro-Government Forces.”
“Civilian deaths attributed to Pro-Government Forces surpassed those attributed to Anti-Government Elements during the first quarter of 2019,” it added.
UNAMA attributed 17% of civilian casualties to the Afghan national security forces (115 deaths and 190 injuries), 13% to international military forces (146 deaths and 86 injured), 2% to pro-government armed groups (34 killed and seven injured), and 2% to multiple pro-government forces (10 deaths and 20 injured).
In all, number of civilian deaths attributed to pro-government forces surpassed those attributed to the Taliban, who were blamed for 173 deaths and 525 injuries, and Islamic State Khorasan province (43 killed and 171 injured).
Aerial operations accounted for 13% of civilian deaths and injuries documented during the period, with 145 people killed and 83 wounded.
Although airstrikes by Afghan forces have increased, U.S. forces are the only members of the international forces operating in Afghanistan known to carry out airstrikes in the country.
The U.S. military holds itself “to the highest standards of accuracy and accountability,” AFP reported U.S. Forces-Afghanistan spokesperson Colonel Dave Butler as saying in response to the report.
“We reserve the right of self-defence of our forces as well as the Afghan Security Forces,” Butler said in a statement.
“The best way to end the suffering of non-combatants is to end the fighting through an agreed-upon reduction in violence on all sides.”
UNAMA noted that the number of civilian casualties from air and search operations was the highest recorded since the mission began documentation.
The majority of search operations resulting in civilian casualties were attributed to either the National Directorate of Security Special Forces or the Khost Protection Force, which “appear to act with impunity outside of the governmental chain of command,” UNAMA said.
It called on the Afghan government to either disband the Khost Protection Force, which has for years been accused of indiscriminate killings of civilians, or fold its members into the regular military.
UNAMA said the overall drop in civilian casualties may be in part due to a particularly harsh winter, and said it was unclear whether the decrease was influenced by any actions taken to better protect civilians, or by the ongoing talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban or the insurgent group’s talks with the U.S.
The Taliban announced its annual spring offensive, Operation Fath, on April 12, marking the beginning of the so-called fighting season.