KABUL – More civilians were killed by Afghan and foreign forces than by Taliban and others insurgent groups in Afghanistan in the first six months of 2019, according to a United Nations report published on Tuesday.
A total of 1,366 civilians were killed from Jan. 1 to June 30 this year and the Afghan and foreign forces were responsible for 717 such killings, the UN-Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) said in its mid-year report on Afghan civilian casualties.
Last year from January to June, Afghan and foreign forces were held responsible for 402 civilian deaths.
The report said anti-government forces, including the Taliban and Islamist State militant groups, killed 531 civilians while the remaining lost their lives in crossfire, and were not attributed to any side.
However, the overall all civilian casualties in the first six months of 2019 saw a 27 percent decrease compared to the same period last year. A total of 1,366 civilians were killed and 2,446 injured in the Afghanistan conflict so far this year, the UN document said.
A total of 5,122 casualties (1,692 deaths and 3,430 injured) were reported from January to June last year. The decrease in the civilian casualties has occurred mainly because there were fewer suicide attacks in 2019.
“The UN welcomes the reduction in civilian casualties... but continues to regard the level of harm done to civilians as shocking and unacceptable… More must be done,” the mission said in the report.
Col. Sonny Leggett, a spokesperson of US-led international forces for Afghanistan, rejected the UNAMA report, saying its methods and findings were not accurate.
“Sources with limited information and conflicted motives are not always credible. We follow the highest standards of accuracy and accountability and always work to avoid harm to civilian con-combatants,” Leggett told EFE in an email.
The spokesperson said international forces work closely with their Afghan counterparts “to prevent non-combatant casualties and investigate credible allegations.”
“We assess and investigate all credible allegations of non-combat casualties in this complex environment where as others intentionally target public areas, use civilians as human shields and attempt to hide the truth though lies and propaganda. Our evidence collection is more thorough, evidentiary and accurate than UNAMA’s.”
The UN report said that the world body and its mission in Afghanistan support an all-party pledge to reduce civilian casualties to zero that was made in the joint declaration by participants at intra-Afghan dialogue held in Doha on July 7-8.
“Everyone heard the message loud and clear from Afghan delegates in the Doha talks – ‘reduce civilian casualties to zero,’” said Tadamichi Yamamoto, the UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan.
The report said while anti-government elements continued to cause the majority of 985 civilian casualties (306 deaths and 679 injured), but it noted with a concern that “civilian deaths attributed to pro-government forces exceeded those caused by (militant groups).”
During the first six months of 2019, the UN mission attributed 1,397 civilian casualties (717 deaths and 680 injured) to pro-government forces – a 31 percent increase from the corresponding period in 2018.
It said aerial operations by the government forces caused 519 civilian casualties (363 deaths and 156 injured). This represents a 39 percent increase in overall civilian casualties from this tactic.
The report attributed 83 percent of the civilian casualties resulting from aerial operations to foreign forces, nine percent to Afghan forces, and the remaining eight percent to undetermined pro-government forces.
It said ground engagements remained the leading cause of civilian casualties, causing one-third of the overall total.
The use of improvised explosive devices was the second leading cause, representing 28 percent of the total.
The overall civilian casualties for the first six months of the year included 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 civilian casualties, with 327 deaths and 880 injured.
“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,” Bennett said.