Violence soared in Afghanistan during the first six months of 2014, according to a report released amidst brewing political crisis and rising insurgency.
Between January 1 and June 30, 2014, the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan documented 1,564 civilian deaths and 3,289 injured civilians, marking a 24 percent overall increase in Afghan civilian casualties compared to the same period last year, according to a mid-year report.
Total child civilian casualties increased 34 percent in the first six months of 2014 to 1,071, including 295 killed and 776 injured, while total women civilian casualties increased 24 per cent to 440, including 148 killed and 292 injured.
“In 2014, the fight is increasingly taking place in communities, public places, and near the homes of ordinary Afghans, with death and injury to women and children in a continued disturbing upward spiral,” said Director of Human Rights for UNAMA, Georgette Gagnon.
The report was issued amidst ongoing violence and political controversy. An attack on a government compound in Kandahar on Wednesday left 30 dead, including four civilians. Meanwhile, contested election results threaten to further divide the populace.
The sharp increase in civilian deaths and injuries in 2014 resulted from escalating ground engagements between anti-government elements" (all individuals and armed groups in conflict with the Afghan government and/or international military forces) and Afghan national security forces particularly in civilian-populated areas, according to the report.
For the first time since 2009, ground combat — including crossfire, mortar attacks, and rocket-fired grenades — was the leading cause of casualties, as opposed to improvised explosive devices (IEDs), which are now the second leading cause of death or injury.
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“The nature of the conflict in Afghanistan is changing in 2014 with an escalation of ground engagements in civilian-populated areas,” said the UN Special Representative for the Secretary-General in Afghanistan and head of UNAMA, Ján Kubiš. “The impact on civilians, including the most vulnerable Afghans, is proving to be devastating.”
UNAMA attributes some of the escalated violence to the transfer of security responsibility from international military forces to Afghan security forces, which left some areas more exposed and vulnerable to attacks by anti-government elements. U.S. and allied troops are scheduled to be out of the country by the end of this year, though President Barack Obama has said he wants to leave nearly 10,000 troops in Afghanistan to help train Afghan security forces and to stage counterterrorism operations.
But as Peace Action's Paul Kawika Martin pointed out in a May 28 op-ed, "[T]he surge of troops in 2009 and 2010 into the country failed to quell the violence, showing that large troop numbers neglect to lead to stability or lead to a democratic or even a well-governed Afghanistan...Also, history teaches us that local policing, working with the local populace, is far more likely to reduce terrorists than foreign forces that may increase recruitment by killing innocents and arousing resentments."
The UN report also shows that Afghanistan's presidential and Provincial Council elections, held in April and June, led to violence against civilians. In the first six months of the year, UNAMA documented 674 casualties (173 deaths and 501 injured) "from attacks directly targeting the electoral process," including ground engagements and IED attacks around polling centers or Independent Election Commission convoys.
Almost three-quarters of the causalities were blamed on anti-government forces. “While all parties to the conflict — including Afghan national security forces — must do more to uphold their obligations under international law to avoid harm to civilians, the onus is clearly on the Taliban and other anti-Government elements to reverse this trend and deliver on their stated commitments to do so,” declared Kubiš.
In response, the Taliban issued a statement that read: “Once again Taliban are blamed for the majority of civilian causalities in this report, which is clearly propaganda of the enemy. We want to make it clear that the lives, dignity and property of all civilians is a major and important goal of our jihad.”