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Afghan Civilian Casualties High as 1st Phase of US-Taliban Deal Ends

FILE - Mourners carry a covered body during a burial ceremony following a suicide attack on a hospital, at a cemetery in Kabul, Afghanistan, May 13, 2020.

Nearly 3,000 civilians, around 16 per day, have been killed or wounded in the conflict in Afghanistan in the first six months of this year, according to the country’s official human rights body.

The Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) issued its report Tuesday in Kabul, indicating that the civilian casualties, while still high, have dropped by 11 percent compared to the same period last year.

The greatest reduction was among children, 630 wounded or killed this year compared to 951 last year, or a drop of around 33 percent.

The AIHRC has placed most of the blame on the Taliban, accusing it of being responsible of nearly half of all casualties, even as the report said the “figures indicate a 24 percent reduction in civilian casualties caused by Taliban attacks” this year compared to 2019.

While the militant group insists it does not target civilians, most of its attacks cause civilian casualties. An attack Monday on an intelligence agency’s complex in Samangan province killed 11 intelligence officials but wounded nearly 50 civilians in the process. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack.

Tuesday also marked the end of the first phase of a hallmark agreement reached in February between the Taliban and the United States that was seen as the beginning of the end of the longest American war.

As per the agreement, the U.S. and its NATO allies have reduced their number of troops in Afghanistan and vacated five military bases. The deal calls for a complete withdrawal of foreign forces from the country in 14 months from the signing date, which was Feb. 29.

FILE - Foreign troops with the NATO-led Resolute Support Mission investigate at the site of a suicide attack in Kabul, Afghanistan, Sept. 5, 2019.
FILE - Foreign troops with the NATO-led Resolute Support Mission investigate at the site of a suicide attack in Kabul, Afghanistan, Sept. 5, 2019.

However, the second part of the deal, the start of negotiations between the militants and other Afghan factions, including the Afghan government, has been stalled. One of the reasons given by Afghan officials is the high level of violence perpetrated by the Taliban.

Addressing an international conference on Afghanistan’s peace process last week, the man tasked with leading the country’s negotiations for its future, Abdullah Abdullah, criticized the Taliban for keeping the level of violence so high, calling it an obstacle to progress in the peace process.

Meanwhile, the militant group blames the delay on the slow pace of prisoner exchange. The U.S.-Taliban deal, titled the “Agreement for Bringing Peace to Afghanistan,” says the government is supposed to release up to 5,000 Taliban prisoners in exchange for up to 1,000 of their security personnel held by the militants.

On Monday, Taliban’s Doha-based spokesman, Suhail Shaheen, tweeted that another 25 soldiers and policemen were released by the Taliban, indicating that slowly, the two sides are moving toward a resolution of the prisoner release issue.

So far, the Afghan government has released more than 4,000 prisoners. Still the last set of prisoners has caused a dispute because the government said the prisoners were accused of serious crimes. They have asked the Taliban for an alternate set of names. So far, the militants seem to have refused.

“As regards the release of the prisoners, it is of utmost importance that those prisoners who are to be released, must be in accordance with the list of the Islamic Emirate as decided upon in Doha,” Shaheen tweeted Monday.