UN says Afghan civilian casualties down by 15pc last year

The number of civilians killed and wounded in violence across war-weary Afghanistan fell by 15% last year compared to 2019, according to a United Nations report released Tuesday, reports AP from Kabul Afghanistan.

 The U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan and the U.N. Human Rights Office attributed the drop in civilian casualties in part to an apparent tactical change by insurgents to targeted killings, fewer suicide bombings and a stark drop in casualties attributed to international military forces.

 Still, Afghanistan remains among the deadliest places in the world to be a civilian. A distressing feature of the conflict remains the disproportionate impact on Afghan women and children, who make up 43% of all casualties.

 The attacks targeting civilians include assaults on members of the judiciary, media and activists. Also targeted have been religious minorities, especially the Shiite Muslim population, most of whom also belong to the Hazara ethnic group, and the Sikh population.

 The overall number of civilian casualties in 2020 of 8,820 — including 3,035 killed and 5,785 others wounded — fell below 10,000 for the first time since 2013. Last year's total was 15% down compared to 2019, the U.N. said.

 Afghanistan has seen a nationwide spike in bombings, targeted killings and violence on the battlefield as peace negotiations in Qatar between the Taliban and the Afghan government have stalled. It’s been over a month since the sides last met to discuss how to proceed.

 Meanwhile, President Joe Biden's administration is reviewing the U.S.-Taliban peace deal that was signed Feb. 29 last year. As part of it, Washington committed to a May 1 withdrawal of all foreign troops from Afghanistan.

 Ground engagements were the leading cause of civilian casualties in 2020. They were responsible for 36% of civilian casualties, a slight increase compared with 2019. Next were suicide and non-suicide attacks using improvised explosive devices, which caused 34.5% of the casualties last year, a 30% decrease. Anti-government forces targeted killings caused 14% of casualties in 2020, up by 45%, and pro-government airstrikes caused 8% of casualties, down 34%.

 “Ultimately, the best way to protect civilians is to establish a humanitarian ceasefire,” said Lyons, who is also head of UNAMA. “Parties refusing to consider a ceasefire must recognize the devastating consequences of such a posture on the lives of Afghan civilians.”