With Restrictions Loosened and Increased US Bombings, Afghan Civilian Deaths Surge
Uptick comes as U.S. beefs up Afghan air force's fleet and "Mad Dog" Mattis loosens restrictions on strikes
Days after the U.S. military said the number of airstrikes its coalition carried out in Afghanistan had soared, United Nations data released Thursday spotlights the human cost of the escalated bombing.
From the beginning of January until the end of September, UNAMA said, over 200 civilians died and 261 were injured from aerial attacks—a 52 percent increase compared to the same period last year.
The strikes have taken a particular toll on women and children, as they make up 68 percent of the victims.
The U.N. put the blame for 38 percent of the casualties from the airstrikes at the hands of the U.S.-led coalition, with Afghan forces, who are now carrying out their own airstrikes, being responsible for the bulk.
Their own fleet is being beefed up thanks to the U.S. military, which in turn is looking to carry out more strikes.
Portending more airstrikes carried out by Afghan air power, the commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, Gen. John Nicholson, said last week, "A tidal wave of Afghan airpower is on the horizon."
Nicholson, speaking from a ceremony at the Kandahar airfield after two Black Hawks from the U.S. military—the first of 159—joined the Afghan fleet, said, "The momentum has shifted, and it is irreversible."
In another signal of potentially increasing causalities, Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis told congressional committees last week he was loosening "proximity requirements" to strike the Taliban. "It used to be we have to basically be in contact with that enemy," he told the House Armed Services Committee.
"That is no longer the case," he said at the Senate Armed Services Committe. "So these kind of restrictions that did not allow us to employ the air power fully have been removed, yes."
The number of U.S. airstrikes in Afghanistan were at a seven-year high in September, recently released military data shows, thanks in part to President Donald Trump's war strategy for country. The U.S.-led coalition dropped 751 bombs last month, a nearly 50-percent increase from August.
Meanwhile, with the invasion of Afghanistan having reached its 16-year anniversary last week, peace groups continue their calls for a full withdrawal of U.S. forces.
"Unless something changes," wrote journalist Sonali Kolhatkar, "another 10 years will pass with Americans remaining blind to the reasons for the war and Afghans continuing to pay the price of our ignorance."
According to Middle East expert Phyllis Bennis, Trump's plan is "a recipe for permanent war."
"There is no military solution. We need diplomacy, not war," she stressed. "It's the only thing that will work."