More than 500 civilians, including more than 150 children, were killed due to the fighting in Afghanistan during the first quarter of 2020, said a new UNAMA report released on Monday.
The report said there was a total of 1,293 civilian casualties (533 killed and 760 injured) in Afghanistan during the first three months of the year, indicating the heavy toll the conflict continues to inflict on the civilian population.
The report tracks a disturbing increase in violence during March, following the Afghan-Taliban agreement at the end of February, which many hoped would lead to reduced violence, especially amid the spread of COVID-19.
“I call on all parties to seize the opportunity offered by the Secretary-General’s call for a global ceasefire to focus collective efforts on fighting a common enemy, the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Deborah Lyons, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan and head of UNAMA. “To safeguard the lives of countless civilians in Afghanistan and to give the nation hope of a better future, it is imperative that violence is stopped with the establishment of a ceasefire and for peace negotiations to commence.”
UNAMA said it is "particularly concerned" about the escalation in violence during March and increasing civilian casualties.
“This trend is all the more striking as it followed a 22 to 28 February ‘reduction in violence’ period between Pro-Government Forces and the Taliban, as well as the 29 February agreement signed between the United States and the Taliban,” it said.
"Anti-Government Elements (AGEs) continued to be responsible for the majority of civilian casualties – 55 per cent – during the first quarter, causing 710 civilian casualties (282 killed and 428 injured)," the report said.
UNAMA attributed "39 percent" to the Taliban, "13 percent to Daesh," and the remainder to undetermined anti-government militant groups.
According to the report, the number of civilian deaths attributed to anti-government groups--particularly the Taliban – increased by "22 percent" in the first quarter of 2020 as compared to the same period in 2019, mainly due to an "increase in targeted killings and summary executions."
"Pro-government Forces (PGFs) were responsible for 32 percent of all civilian casualties during the first quarter of 2020, causing 412 civilian casualties (198 killed and 214 injured). Of concern, pro-government forces were responsible for more child casualties than anti-government groups during the first three months of the year and over twice as many child deaths, mainly due to airstrikes and indirect fire during ground engagements," said UNAMA report.
UNAMA attributed "21 percent" of overall civilian casualties to Afghan national security forces, "eight percent" to international military forces, and the remainder to pro-government armed groups.
Although UNAMA documented a reduction in civilian casualties caused by the Afghan national security forces for the first quarter of 2020, the report said that there are concerns about the "uptick in civilian casualties in March as a result of their operations, mainly from ground engagements, particularly the use of indirect fire, and airstrikes."
The last civilian casualty incident of the quarter attributed to international military forces came out on February 17, before the ‘reduction in violence’ period.
"Children and women continue to be disproportionately impacted by the violence," said the report," specifying that "from January 1 to March 31, 2020, UNAMA documented 417 child casualties (152 killed and 265 injured) and 168 women casualties (60 killed and 108 injured)."
"Despite increasing levels of violence and civilian casualties in March, the overall number of civilian casualties in the first quarter of 2020 represents a 29 percent decrease in comparison to the first quarter of 2019 and the lowest figure for a first quarter since 2012," said the report.