Insurgent attacks in Afghanistan have hit record highs this year with hundreds of civilians killed, including 19 aid workers, and spreading insecurity cutting back relief work, aid groups said today. Unrest had spread to once stable areas and welfare agencies were forced to scale back aid delivery even as drought and food price hikes put millions of people in difficulty, the Agency Co-ordinating Body for Afghan Relief (ACBAR) said.
"So far this year the number of insurgent attacks, bombings and other violent incidents is up by approximately 50 per cent on the same period last year," said ACBAR, a grouping of about 100 Afghan and international non-governmental organisations. There were 463 insurgent attacks in May and 569 in June, it said in a statement, citing figures from a range of sources including the Afghanistan NGO Safety Office.
This was "greater than the number of such attacks in any other month since the end of major hostilities following the international intervention in 2001," it said. "This year 2,500 people have reportedly lost their lives in the conflict and while exact figures are not yet available, this could include up to 1,000 civilians," the group added. Initial estimates were that more than 260 civilians were killed in July, which was higher than any other month in the past six years, it said.
July saw some of the worst violence of an insurgency by extremists launched after the Taliban were ousted from government in a US-led invasion in late 2001. A suicide bomb at the Indian embassy in Kabul killed around 60 people and other attacks left dozens more dead. Military action, mostly air strikes on insurgents, killed nearly 80 civilians, according to Afghan and military officials. ACBAR said two-thirds of reported civilian casualties could be attributed to insurgent activities, especially suicide bombings and the use of civilian property to launch attacks.
But the growing number of air strikes by international military forces, up by about 40 per cent on last year, had also contributed. In addition, ACBAR said: "Aid organisations and their staff have been subject to increasing attacks, threats and intimidation, by both insurgent and criminal groups." "This year there have been over 84 such incidents, including 21 in June, more than in any other month in the last six years.
"So far this year 19 NGO staff have been killed, which already exceeds the total number of NGO workers killed last year." Violence had forced the closure of schools and health facilities in the south, it said. It was also hindering vital development projects. Drought and higher food prices meanwhile put more than four million Afghans in "extremely difficult circumstances", especially young children and breastfeeding or pregnant woman.
"Increasing and spreading insecurity is jeopardising the delivery of essential humanitarian assistance to these people and threatening their lives and livelihoods." ACBAR called on all parties in the conflict to prioritise the safety of civilians and observe "fundamental standards of humanity" and "the established international laws of armed conflict". This included distinguishing between civilians and combatants; never using civilians as a shield; and not attacking humanitarian, development and medical personnel or supplies.
The United Nations said in reaction to the group's statement that growing insecurity was also affecting its work, with 12 UN humanitarian convoys attacked by criminal gangs in the past six months. "Without a doubt the humanitarian challenge in Afghanistan continues to grow, insurgent and criminal attacks have prevented us from reaching some the country's most vulnerable communities," Aleem Siddique, a spokesman, said.