UN says Afghan civilian casualties down by 15% last year

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — According to a UN survey published Tuesday, the number of civilians killed and injured in fighting in war-wear Afghanistan dropped by 15 percent compared to 2019 in the past year.

The United Nations Support Mission in Afghanistan and the United Nations.

The Human Rights Office has linked the reduction in civilian deaths to an obvious tactical shift in the number of rebels to targeted attacks, less suicide bombings and the decrease in foreign military casualties.

Yet Afghanistan continues to be one of the deadliest areas in the world to be a civil.

The overwhelming burden on Afghan women and children also remains a distressing feature of the violence, accounting for 43 percent of the victims.

Civilian threats include assaults on judiciaries, the media and leftists.

Religious minorities were also attacked, especially the Shia Muslim community, the majority of whom are of the Hazara ethnic group and of the Sikh people.

The estimated number of civilian deaths in 2020, 8 820 – including 3,035 killed and 5,785 injured – for the first time since 2013 dropped below 10,000.

Last year's number dropped 15 percent compared with 2019, the United Nations.

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Afghanistan has seen a domestic rise in attacks, targeted killings and armed violence as peace talks between the Taliban and the Afghan Government have failed in Qatar.

It was over a month after the parties met last to decide how to proceed.

Meanwhile, the administration of President Joe Biden is evaluating the U.S.-Taliban peace agreement negotiated on February 29 last year.

As part of this, Washington promised that all foreign forces will be withdrawing from Afghanistan on 1 May.

Afghanistan's peace talks between Taliban and Afghan government officials in Qatar started on Sept. 12 but failed to mitigate the extent of civil harm—a crucial measure of the degree of conflict.

Instead, in the fourth quarter of the year, crime intensified.

For the first time since formal reporting started in 2009, UNAMA reported a growing number of civilian casualties in the fourth quarter as opposed to the third.

In contrast to the same three months of 2019, this time also marked a 45 percent rise in civil deaths, in particular from the use of improvised explosive devices and targeted killings.

Civil casualties were the highest in October in 2020 for any month, and in November UNAMA announced the highest number of civilian casualties in November since formal reporting began in 2009.

In tandem with the overall rise in violence over the past year, people experienced a spate of targeted killings, also referred to as "assassinations," targeting civilians, including media critics, civil society activists, judiciary and government officials, and civilian warrior family members.

"2020 should have been Afghanistan's year of stability.

Instead, the war has triggered the deaths of thousands of Afghan people," said Deborah Lyons, the UN Special Envoy for the Afghan Secretary-General.

"This critical study seeks to include information and advice to the parties concerned, while taking urgent and meaningful action to protect civilians.

I advise them not to spend a single day taking desperate action to avert more misery."

In 2020 the study blamed 62% of the losses of anti-government forces, most of which were Taliban - 46% - and 8% were the Islamic State group.

A quarter of all civil casualties were incurred by pro-government militias, totaling 2,231, the study said.

This includes 841 dead and 1,390 injured; a 24 percent decline in 2019, the bulk of which was caused by Afghan national security forces – 22 percent of the total.

While the number of civilian casualties was increasing that no parties claimed and that UNAMA could not be blamed for, the study showed that the Taliban caused 19% less civilian casualties than in 2019 and the IS caused 45% less casualties than in the previous year.

The main source of civilian deaths was land obligations in 2020.

They accounted for 36 per cent of civilian deaths, up marginally from 2019.

Next were suicide and unsuicide attempts on improvised explosive devices, which led to a 34.5% drop last year.

Targeted killings in 2020 caused 14% of the fatalities by the anti-government forces, up 45%, and pro-government air attacks caused 8% of the deaths, down 34%.

"Ultimately, a humanitarian cessation of fire is the best way to protect civilians," said Lyons, who is also head of UNAMA.

"Parties that refuse to consider a ceasefire must recognize the devastating effects of such a stance on Afghan civil society lives."