Afghan civilian casualties mount despite ongoing peace talks

A renewed ceasefire is the only way to reduce the deaths, experts say

January 31st, 2019 - Kabul, Kabul, Afghanistan: Alia's grandmother and mother treat her wounds as Alia thrashes and screams in pain. Alia was burned by a teakettle as a result of the attack that happened at Green Village.

The attack on the Green Village, a compound in Kabul that houses foreign workers and NGO's, initially killed 9 and wounded over 120 Afghans who lived in the vicinity.

Alia is burned from the top of her back down to her knees. Treating and cleaning her wounds is excruciatingly painful.

Ivan Flores/The National
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Despite progress in peace negotiations between the Taliban and the United States, Afghan civilians have found no respite in the ongoing war, with casualties continuing to mount.

Local news outlets reported over 1800 civilian casualties in January, reducing hope for a peaceful winter—a period usually considered as a respite from fighting season.

About 986 people civilians were reportedly killed and 839 others injured in the first month of this year, according to a report in Pahjwok, an Afghan news agency. “Last month, not a single day passed without attacks or casualties,” the report stated.

In comparison, in the first three months of last year, 763 deaths and 1,495 injured were reported.

At least 5774 Afghan civilians were killed during 2018, according to the Global Terrorism Index, which ranked Afghanistan as the deadliest country in the world, surpassing Iraq and Syria.

Bombings are the most common cause of civilian casualties.

“The combined use of suicide and non-suicide improvised explosive devices (IEDs) remained the leading cause of civilian casualties in the first nine months of 2018, causing nearly half of all civilian casualties,” stated a report by the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), which has collected data on civilian casualties in the country since 2009. “UNAMA continues to document extreme levels of harm to civilians from the armed conflict, including recording the most civilian deaths during the same nine-month period since 2014,” they observed at the end of last year.

About 35 per cent of 2018 casualties were attributed to the Taliban, UNAMA reported. More than half of casualties from suicide and complex attacks were caused by the local ISIS affiliate. The remainder were caused by Afghan forces, coalition strikes, landmines, cross-border firing and smaller insurgencies like the Haqqani Network.

Even as the US negotiates with the Taliban, the group continues to conduct attacks around Kabul, which security analysts speculate is an attempt to leverage their position in talks. Afghan and US forces continue operations around the country, with increased airstrikes and night raids.

"One reason for an increase in casualties is that both the Taliban and the Afghan government have increased military activities since they've started negotiating peace more seriously, so that they can have an upper hand in the negotiations," retired Colonel Mohammad Radmanish, a former spokesperson at the the Afghan Ministry of Defense, told The National.

“The president himself said they’ve increased fighting against the insurgents to support [US special envoy Zalmay] Khalilzad and US peace plan to push the insurgents reach to an agreement with the Afghans.”

The only possibility of respite is a renewed ceasefire, according to Col Radmanish. “As long as there is fighting, there will be civilian and military casualties. The government and the US needs to strike a ceasefire with the Taliban as part of the peace talks. The attacks are not benefiting anyone.”

A three-day ceasefire in June 2018, the first of its kind, was credited with reduced casualty figures for that quarter.

“It spared the lives of countless Afghan civilians,” the mid-year report by UNAMA noted. “The brief ceasefire offered a glimmer of hope to the civilian population at a time when many may have been unable to imagine respite ahead.”