The number of civilian casualties resulting from the conflict in Afghanistan has risen for a fifth consecutive year, according to a report (pdf) by the United Nations. The number of civilian deaths in 2011, according to the report, was up to 3,021 - an increase of eight per cent on the previous year's total of 2,790.
"The report," according to the UN News Centre, "has found that the conflict is playing an increasingly intrusive role in the day-to-day lives of Afghans, with nearly 200,000 people displaced last year by the fighting, thousands of others losing their livelihoods and property, and many more having their freedom of movement restricted because of the clashes."
Over the past five years, the number of Afghan civilians killed in the armed conflict has increased each year, with a total of 11,864 civilian lives claimed by the conflict since 2007.
“Afghan children, women and men continue to be killed in this war in ever-increasing numbers,” said Ján Kubiš, United Nations Special Representative for the Secretary-General. “For much too long Afghan civilians have paid the highest price of war. Parties to the conflict must greatly increase their efforts to protect civilians to prevent yet another increase in civilian deaths and injuries in 2012.”
The Guardian reports:
"A decade after the war began, the human cost of it is still rising," said Georgette Gagnon, director for human rights for the UN mission in Afghanistan.
The single deadliest suicide attack since 2008 occurred on 6 December, when a bomber detonated his explosives-filled vest at the entrance of a mosque in Kabul, killing 56 worshippers during the Shia Muslim rituals of Ashoura.
Roadside bombs remain the biggest killer of civilians. The homemade explosives – which can be triggered by a footstep or a vehicle and are often rigged with enough explosives to destroy a tank – killed 967 people in 2011, nearly a third of the total.
The figures come as Nato begins to map out plans for international troops to withdraw and hand over responsibility for security to Afghan security forces.
The report confirmed what is often reported when it comes to acknowledging that the majority of civilian deaths are caused by Taliban or other elements opposed to the US and NATO forces. It also makes specific mention of the aerial war waged by the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), night raids, and increased security being performed by the western-trained Afghan Local Police (ALP) that have played a role in the overall increase of casualty numbers. A statement by UNAMA released today reads in part:
“Among the tactics of Pro-Government Forces, aerial attacks caused the greatest number of Afghan civilian deaths in 2011 attributed to these forces,” the report says, noting that in total, 187 civilian deaths were attributed to aerial attacks, an increase of nine percent over 2010. The number of civilian deaths during night search operations by Pro-Government Forces dropped to 63 in 2011, down 22 percent from the previous year.
Throughout 2011, UNAMA received mixed reports on the performance of the Afghan Local Police (ALP) and their impact on civilian protection. By year’s end, most interlocutors reported improved security in areas where the ALP operated. Concerns remained regarding recruitment of human rights abusers into the ALP in some districts and weaknesses in vetting, training, command and control, accountability and oversight. UNAMA documented human rights abuses against civilians by ALP in several districts across the country. The UNAMA report welcomed recent measures by the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and the Ministry of Interior to improve oversight and accountability of the ALP and recommended their prompt and full implementation before further expansion of the ALP programme.
The UNAMA report found that the geographic distribution of civilian casualties shifted significantly, particularly in the second half of 2011. As the armed conflict lessened in severity in the south, it intensified in the south-eastern, eastern and northern regions, with the result that an increasing proportion of Afghan civilians were killed and injured in these areas.
And the UN News Centre report concludes by quoting Georgette Gagnon, the director of human rights at UNAMA:
"To the Afghan people, the credibility and value of a negotiation process and progress toward peace will be measured by reduced civilian casualties and real improvements in security, particularly in conflict-affected areas," she said. "Only through increased actions to protect civilians will the relentless toll of death and injury to Afghan children, women and men be ended during and following a peace process."