Afghanistan civilian death toll soars

The number of civilians killed or wounded in fighting in Afghanistan climbed 22 per cent in 2014 to reach the highest level in five years as foreign troops concluded their combat mission, a UN body said yesterday.

Children have been among the casualties in Afghanistan. Picture: Wakil Kohsar/AFP/Getty Images
Children have been among the casualties in Afghanistan. Picture: Wakil Kohsar/AFP/Getty Images

In its annual report, the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) documented 10,548 civilian casualties in 2014, the highest number in a single year since 2009. They include 3,699 civilian deaths, up 25 per cent from 2013.

Meanwhile, in southern Kandahar province, a suicide bomber struck near a police station yesterday, killing an Afghan woman and a child.

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The UN said the Taleban and other insurgents were responsible for 72 per cent of all civilian casualties, with government forces and foreign troops responsible for 14 per cent.

The Taleban – which refused to comment on the findings of the report – did not accept the veracity of the information, the UNAMA said.

Its chief, Nicholas Haysom, said: “They [the Taleban] have accepted in the engagements with us that protection of a civilian is important and have pledged to take certain measures to eradicate civilian casualties.

“In communities across Afghanistan, increased ground fighting among parties to the conflict and more [improvised explosive device] attacks exacted a heavy toll on Afghan civilians.”

Mr Haysom said the Taleban and other insurgents should “abide by their public commitments to avoid civilian casualties by preventing or ceasing the use of IEDs and mortars in civilian-populated areas, and stop deliberately attacking civilians”.

He said: “Parties to the conflict should understand the impact of their actions and take responsibility for them, uphold the values they claim to defend, and make protecting civilians their first priority.”

The report also underlined the social and economic consequences on Afghan society. The deaths or injuries of men often leave their wives as the sole breadwinner, forcing them to marry off daughters or take children out of school to work.

Georgette Gagnon, UNAMA director of human rights, said: “For Afghan women and children, the anguish of losing a husband and father in the conflict is often only the beginning of their suffering and hardship.”

US and Nato troops pulled back from volatile areas last year, handing security over to Afghan forces and officially concluding their combat mission at the end of the year.

At least 2,213 US soldiers have died in Afghanistan since the invasion to topple the Taleban following the 11 September, 2001, attacks on America, according to an independent count. Some 453 UK personnel have also died.

The UN report attributed the rise in civilian casualties to intensified ground fighting, in which weapons such as rockets and grenades are used in populated areas. For the first time since 2009, more Afghan civilians were killed and injured by ground fighting than any other tactic, including roadside bombs.

The report found civilian deaths and injuries resulting from ground operations surged 54 per cent, making them the “biggest killers of Afghan women and children in 2014”.

The annual “summer fighting season” in 2014 was particularly intense, coinciding with the phased withdrawal of Nato forces and a crisis triggered by a fraud-marred presidential election. The next season, due to begin in April, will be the first without the presence of foreign combat troops.