The United Nations says that civilian casualties in conflict-torn Afghanistan have dropped by 13% in the first half of the year, the lowest figure since 2012, attributing it mainly to a scale back in operations by U.S.-led international military forces and Islamic State terrorists.
The decrease follows a landmark agreement the United States and the Taliban insurgency sealed in February to end the nearly 19-year-old Afghan war, America’s longest.
In its new midyear report released Monday, by the U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) it had recorded nearly 3,500 civilian casualties, including 1,282 deaths, blaming mostly the Taliban and Afghan national security forces for the bloodshed.
“The overall number of civilian casualties represents a 13% decrease as compared to the same period last year, and the lowest figure since 2012,” the report said.
“UNAMA welcomes the reduction, but notes that it was mainly due to a drop in civilian casualties attributed to the international military forces as well as to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant – Khorasan Province (ISIL-KPO),” said UNAMA, using an acronym for the Afghan branch of Islamic State.
“The main reason for the lower number of civilian casualties is due to a reduction in operations by international military forces and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant–Khorasan Province,” said UNAMA, using an acronym for the Afghan branch of Islamic State.
The report noted that Afghan national security forces were responsible for causing 23 percent of the total number of civilian casualties, representing a nine percent increase.
“Civilian casualties from airstrikes by the Afghan air force during the first six months of 2020 have tripled as compared to the same time period in 2019 Pro-government forces remained responsible for most child deaths,” it said.
UNAMA attributed a total of 58 percent civilian casualties to anti-government forces, with the Taliban responsible for killing and injuring 1,473 of them, which represents 43 per cent of the total number of harm inflicted on civilians.
Deborah Lyons, the head of UNAMA, while referring to the U.S.-led push for Afghan peace called on warring sides to avail what she described as a “historic opportunity” to come to the table and negotiate a political settlement.
“I urge the parties to pause, to reflect on the chilling incidents and the harm that they are causing to the Afghan people as documented in this report, and to take decisive action to stop the carnage and get to the negotiating table,” said Lyons.
The UNAMA report lamented that women and children continue to be disproportionately affected by the direct and indirect impacts of the Afghan armed conflict, comprising more than 40 per cent of the total civilian casualties.
It said that the outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic has drastically reduced the ability of victims to recover, making it even more imperative for the parties to the conflict to reduce the violence.
U.S. special representative for Afghanistan reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad said last week that deaths among Afghan security forces had dropped 35 percent to 40 percent this year compared with the same period in 2019.
Khalilzad also told an online forum in Washington on Friday that no American or coalition soldiers had been killed by the Taliban since the signing of the February 29 agreement with the insurgents.
The U.S. assessment of the conflict and Monday’s UNAMA report both contradict claims by Afghan authorities that insurgent violence has risen to record levels since the signing of the US-Taliban deal, killing hundreds of security forces and civilians. The Taliban also has denied Kabul’s insertions.
“This year, the number of Afghan security forces killed is between 35 and 40% less than last year for the same period and the number of civilians killed is also significantly lower for the same period compared to last year,” the Afghan-born U.S. envoy said.
Khalilzad is due to arrive in the region to visit Kabul and Qatar, where the Taliban operates its political office, to meet with leaders from both sides and press for a reduction in violence as well as resolution of disputes surrounding a prisoner swap between the Afghan adversaries so the proposed peace negotiations could begin.
“The parties are closer than ever to the start of Intra-Afghan negotiations, the key next step to ending Afghanistan’s 40-year long war. Although significant progress has been made on prisoner exchanges, the issue requires additional effort to fully resolve,” said a pre-visit State Department statement on Friday.
The Afghan government, which was not party to the U.S.-Taliban pact, has released in phases more than 4,400 insurgent prisoners out of up to 5,000 stipulated in the deal. In exchange, the insurgent group has freed almost 900 Afghan security forces from the objective of 1,000 government detainees held by the Taliban.
But Kabul has refused to free a last set of several hundred Taliban prisoners, accusing them of involvement in “serious” crimes, including killing innocent Afghan civilians. The refusal has slowed down the exchange process and effetely blocked diplomatic efforts aimed at jumpstarting intra-Afghan talks.