Last Year Was the Deadliest on Record for Afghan Civilians, U.N. Report Says

An unprecedented number of casualties were children.

A 75-year-old woman from Kabul, Afghanistan, walks with her two grandchildren in front of a refugee camp at a business park in Innsbruck, Austria, on July 22, 2015. She said five years ago she was hit by an IED at a weekly market and lost her leg. (Photo: Alexander Koerner/Getty Images)

Feb 14, 2016· 2 MIN READ
Jennifer Swann is TakePart’s culture and lifestyle reporter.

More than 3,500 civilians—a quarter of whom were children—died as a result of conflicts in Afghanistan last year, and another 7,500 others were injured, according to a United Nations report released on Sunday. The figure marks a 4-percent increase in civilian casualties since the previous year and the highest number since the organization began keeping track in 2009.

But as “awful” as those numbers are, they don’t convey the full extent of the atrocities, Nicholas Haysom, head of the U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, said during a press conference on Sunday. “The real cost we are talking about in these figures is measured in the maimed bodies of children, the communities who have to live with loss, the grief of colleagues and relatives, the families who have to make do without a breadwinner. These are the real consequences of the acts described in this report.”

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The spike in civilian deaths was attributed to an increase in ground fighting between the Taliban and Afghan security forces, as well as suicide bombings and other attacks in major cities carried out by anti-government forces, including the Taliban. Though civilian casualties at the hands of anti-government forces declined 10 percent overall since the previous year, they comprised about 62 percent of all civilian casualties in 2015. A surge in casualties from suicide attacks and targeted killings is behind the increase. The Taliban publicly took responsibility for about a quarter of those casualties.

The report comes four months after President Obama halted plans to withdraw American troops from Afghanistan and just five days after the U.S. Army said it would deploy hundreds more soldiers to combat the Taliban in the southern province of Helmand, marking the largest deployment of U.S. military forces outside major Afghan bases since the end of the NATO mission in 2014, according to The New York Times.

Helmand is the province second-most affected by improvised explosive devices favored by the Taliban, according to the report. Its cover photo of a man carrying a young girl injured by an IED illustrates the violence that has consumed the region almost continuously since Soviet forces invaded in 1979, leading to an insurgency against the puppet regime that led to the Soviets’ withdrawal, the rise of the Taliban and its harboring of al Qaeda, and an American invasion following the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

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The inability of U.S.-led forces to quell the insurgency or make peace with the Taliban and bring stability to the troubled country has driven thousands of Afghans to flee their homes, seeking asylum in Europe. Afghans accounted for 29 percent of the refugees who crossed the Mediterranean into Europe this year, according to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, and are the second-largest group of asylum seekers in the European Union—next only to Syrians—during the third quarter of 2015.

The United Nations report, which detailed more than 230 alleged war crimes committed by the Taliban, called on the perpetrators of the deadly attacks to be held accountable. To curb civilian casualties, the United Nations also called on anti-government forces to end their use of IEDs in heavily populated areas, on the Afghan government to disarm all militias, and on international military forces to review current targeting protocols.