UN says Afghan civilian casualties down by 13 per cent this year

More than 40 per cent of those killed or wounded are women and children

A wounded boy receives treatment at a hospital after a car bomb blast on an intelligence compound in Aybak, the capital of the Samangan province in northern Afghanistan, Monday, July 13, 2020. Taliban insurgents launched a complex attack on the compound that began with a suicide bombing, officials said. (AP Photo)

The number of Afghan civilians killed and wounded in the country's conflict dropped by 13 per cent in the first six months of this year compared to the same period last year, according to a UN report released on Monday.

The report credited the drop in casualties in part to the reduction of operations by international forces – which now only act when called upon and in support of the Afghan forces – and also to a decrease in the number of attacks by the local affiliate of ISIS.

The UN report said 1,282 people were killed in violence in the first six months of 2020 in Afghanistan and 2,176 were wounded. That represents an overall 13 per cent decrease from the same period in 2019. The UN recorded 17 attacks by ISIS causing civilians casualties from January to June, down from 97 attacks in the same period last year.

Civilian casualties from air strikes carried out by Afghan forces tripled in the first six months of the year, compared to the same time period last year. Afghan forces were responsible for 23 per cent of the civilian casualties, while the Taliban insurgents were responsible for 43 per cent, the report said.

The report comes against the backdrop of a US-Taliban peace deal signed at the end of February and touted as the best hope for peace in Afghanistan after decades of war. While the US and Nato have already begun reducing their troop strength, the second phase of the deal, which calls for negotiations between the Taliban and the Kabul government, has yet to begin. The delay is a result of differences between the government and insurgents over a prisoner exchange that is part of the US-Taliban agreement.

The report sent a strong message to both the Taliban and the Afghan government forces, saying the civilian casualties caused by the warring sides continued to be high.

“At a time when the government of Afghanistan and the Taliban have a historic opportunity to come together at the negotiating table for peace talks, the tragic reality is that the fighting continues, inflicting terrible harm to civilians every day,” said Deborah Lyons, the head of the UN mission in Afghanistan.

“I urge the parties to pause, to reflect on the chilling incidents and the harm that they are causing to the Afghan people as documented in this report, and to take decisive action to stop the carnage and get to the negotiating table,” said Lyons.

Women and children continue to be disproportionately affected, comprising more than 40 per cent of the total civilian casualties, the report said.

The report noted that children in Afghanistan are especially vulnerable to abuse by both sides, including being recruited for combat.

Last week, a government air strike killed at least 14 people in western Herat province, many of them women and children. Hundreds of people had gathered in the province's Adraskan district to welcome home a former Taliban fighter freed from jail, when aircraft reportedly pounded the gathering.

The government said the strike was being investigated.