Afghan civilian casualties up by startling amount, UN says
Kabul, Afghanistan – The number of civilian casualties in Afghanistan's conflict has increased by 47% during the first half of 2021 compared to the same period last year, the United Nations said in a report published on Monday.
The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) has documented that 1,659 civilians were killed and 3,254 others were wounded in the war-ravaged country during the period.
Of serious concern is the sharp rise in the number of civilians killed and wounded during the months of May and June when the US-led international forces began their withdrawal and the fighting intensified across the country, the mission said.
According to the figures, 783 civilians were killed and 1,609 others wounded in May and June, which shows the highest number for those months since the UNAMA began its systematic documentation in 2009.
The UN warns that without "a significant de-escalation in violence" the country is on course for 2021 to witness the highest ever number of documented civilian casualties in a single year.
A survey conducted by dpa correspondents in mid-July revealed that the Taliban now controls over half of Afghanistan's districts while pushing to advance toward several provincial capitals.
The UN warns that if intensive military action is undertaken in urban areas which are more populated, the consequences for Afghan civilians will be catastrophic.
Women, boys, and girls made up close to half of the civilian casualties, the report added.
"It is sickening to report that more women and more children were killed and injured than ever before recorded by UNAMA for the first half of any calendar year," the UNAMA said.
The UN says that militant groups such as the Taliban and Islamic State were responsible for 64% of the total civilian casualties. The Taliban top the list, being responsible for 39%.
Pro-government forces were found to be responsible for 25%.
Another 11% were attributed to "crossfire" during ground engagements in which the exact culprits could not be determined.
Taliban and Afghan government reject the UN report
Both the Afghan government and the Taliban rejected the UN report on Monday.
Speaking in a presser, the Afghan armed forces spokesperson General Ajmal Shinwari reasoned that the security forces evacuated many areas to prevent civilian casualties.
In a statement, the Taliban said the group has not inflicted any "intentional" casualties on civilians in the past six months, but did not reject the possibility of casualties due to unexploded landmines.
The use of home-made devices by the Taliban and Islamic State militants have been the main cause of civilian casualties. Ground engagements between the warring parties and targeted killings by the militants were the other leading cause of civilian casualties.
As the violence escalates, Washington has announced that it will complete the withdrawal of its troops from Afghanistan by the end of August. Other NATO countries have already quietly left the country.
The head of the US Army Central Command General Kenneth McKenzie told reporters in Kabul on Sunday that the US is currently continuing airstrikes in support of the Afghan forces.
It was unclear if the US was planning to continue these airstrikes also after August 31, the planned end of the US mission in Afghanistan.
There is little progress in the intra-Afghan peace talks that started in Doha last year. Several observers now believe the Taliban militants might be looking to win militarily.
Cover photo: IMAGO / Xinhua