The UN mission in Afghanistan in its mid-year report has noted a 27 percent reduction in civilian casualties in Afghanistan compared to the same period in 2018.
The UN report says that has documented 3,812 civilian casualties (1,366 deaths and 2,446 injured) in the first half of 2019.
While the number of civilians killed and injured is 27 percent down from the same period in 2018 –the year that saw record high numbers of recorded civilian casualties– the UN notes with concern disturbing patterns such as the 27 percent increase in civilian deaths in the second quarter of 2019 compared with the first.
The UN welcomes the reduction in civilian casualties in the 1 January-30 June 2019 period, but continues to regard the level of harm done to civilians as shocking and unacceptable.
The report says that anti-government elements continued to cause the majority of civilian casualties.
However, civilian deaths attributed to pro-government forces exceeded those caused by anti-government elements for the second quarter in succession, the report shows.
The UN report says that ground engagements remained the leading cause of civilian casualties, causing one-third of the overall total, albeit a 16 percent decrease compared to the first half of 2018.
According to the report, the use of improvised explosive devices (IEDs), mainly in non-suicide attacks, was the second leading cause, representing 28 percent of the total. Civilian casualties from aerial operations amounted to 14 percent.
UNAMA attributed 52 percent of all civilian casualties to anti-government elements, with 38 percent attributed to Taliban, 11 percent to Daesh/Islamic State Khorasan Province (ISKP), and 3 percent to unidentified anti-government elements.
Civilian casualties attributed to anti-government elements decreased by 43 percent during the first half of 2019 as compared to 2018, the report says.
This was mainly due to a reduction in civilian casualties from suicide IEDs. Civilian casualties attributed to pro-government forces increased by 31 percent, mostly caused by an increase of aerial and search operations.
From 1 January to 30 June 2019, anti-government elements caused 1,968 civilian casualties (531 deaths and 1,437 injured), the report says.
There was a sharp drop in civilian casualties from suicide and complex attacks, particularly by Daesh.
UNAMA documented 985 civilian casualties (306 deaths and 679 injured) from anti-government elements attacks that deliberately targeted civilians, including government officials, tribal elders, aid workers, religious scholars, mullahs and places of worship and culture, the report says.
UNAMA reiterates that civilians not directly participating in hostilities, including civilian government workers, and civilian objects may never be the target of attack.
UNAMA urges anti-government elements to apply a definition of civilian and civilian object that accords with international humanitarian law.
During the first six months of 2019, UNAMA attributed 1,397 civilian casualties (717 deaths and 680 injured) to pro-government forces, a 31 percent increase from the corresponding period in 2018.
Pro-government forces caused 37 percent of all civilian casualties in the first half of 2019 (18 percent by Afghan national security forces, 12 percent by International Military Forces, 2 percent by Pro-Government armed groups and the remainder to undetermined or multiple pro-government forces).
Aerial operations caused 519 civilian casualties (363 deaths and 156 injured), 150 of which were child casualties (89 deaths and 61 injured), the report says.
This represents a 39 percent increase in overall civilian casualties from this tactic, the report says.
While the number of injured decreased, the number of civilians killed more than doubled, highlighting the lethal character of this tactic, the report says.
The report says that UNAMA continues to express concern about the rising level of civilian harm as a result of aerial operations, particularly those conducted in support of Afghan forces on the ground and strikes on civilian structures.
UNAMA attributed 83 percent of the civilian casualties resulting from aerial operations to International Military Forces, nine percent to the Afghan Air Force, and the remaining eight percent to undetermined pro-government forces, the report says.
According to the report, women continue to be disproportionately impacted by the armed conflict in Afghanistan.
Up to 30 June 2019, the conflict caused 430 women casualties (144 deaths and 286 injured), a decrease of 22 percent compared to the same period in 2018.
Child casualties represented almost one-third of the overall total of civilian casualties, with 327 deaths and 880 injured, the report says.
Children continue to comprise the vast majority –84 percent– of all civilian casualties from explosive remnants of war.
UNAMA acknowledges that parties have announced efforts to reduce civilian casualties, but they are insufficient. More must be done.
The UN supports the demand for all parties to reduce civilian casualties to zero, made in the joint declaration by Afghan participants from the 7-8 July 2019 Intra-Afghan Dialogue held in Doha.
“Everyone heard the message loud and clear from Afghan delegates in the Doha talks – ‘reduce civilian casualties to zero!’” said Tadamichi Yamamoto, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan. “We urge all parties to heed this imperative, to answer the call of Afghans for immediate steps to be taken to reduce the terrible harm being inflicted,” added Yamamoto, who is also head of UNAMA.
“Parties to the conflict may give differing explanations for recent trends, each designed to justify their own military tactics,” said Richard Bennett, UNAMA’s Human Rights Chief. “The fact remains that only a determined effort to avoid civilian harm, not just by abiding by international humanitarian law but also by reducing the intensity of the fighting, will decrease the suffering of civilian Afghans.”
The Office of National Security Council in a statement said that the Afghan forces are taking concrete steps to protect civilians from “enemy attack”, reduce civilian casualties during combat operations and provide aid to civilian survivors and the displaced.
“The three-pronged approach – protection, mitigation and relief – remains a priority at the highest levels of government and security sector leadership,” the statement said.
NATO’s Resolute Support Mission in Afghanistan in a statement rejected the UN report on civilian casualties and said they follow the highest standards of accuracy and accountability and always work to avoid harm to civilian non-combatants.