The United Nations recorded an alarming 24 percent spike in conflict-related child casualties in Afghanistan and a three percent rise in total civilian casualties in 2016 compared to the year before.
The violence caused more than 11,400 civilian casualties, including around 3,500 deaths last year, according to the annual report by the U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, or UNAMA, released in Kabul Monday.
Report blames Taliban for most civilian deaths
It attributed 61 percent of civilian deaths and injuries to anti-government elements, mainly the Taliban. UNAMA blamed pro-government forces for causing 24 percent of the casualties, saying it reflected a 46 percent increase compared to 2015.
The Taliban swiftly denied the allegations and blamed U.S.-led foreign forces as well as their local Afghan partners for causing most of the casualties in airstrikes against civilian areas.
The report could not ascertain responsibility for 10 percent of the casualties caused by the fighting, while the remaining five percent resulted mainly from explosive remnants of war.
Most child casualties ever recorded by UNAMA in one year
“UNAMA recorded 3,512 child casualties (923 deaths and 2,589 injured), a 24 percent increase from 2015, and the highest number of child casualties recorded by UNAMA in a single year,” it said.
UNAMA Chief, Tadamichi Yamamoto, while launching the report called on Afghan warring sides to take urgent steps to halt “the preventable harm” to civilians.
“What they must do is clear; cease fighting in civilian populated areas, and stop using civilian space such as schools, hospitals and mosques for military objectives,” emphasized Yamamoto.
“Notwithstanding these efforts, parties to the conflict must demonstrate commitment and resolve to reach a politically negotiated solution to this needlessly protracted conflict that has destroyed lives, broken families, induced displacements, caused trauma and sufferings beyond imagination.” lamented Yamamoto.
The disproportionate rise in child casualties across Afghanistan last year resulted mainly from a 66 percent increase in civilian casualties from explosive remnants of war, and most of those civilians were children, UNAMA explained.
The report noted an overall deterioration in civilian protection and the highest number of civilian casualties recorded since 2009, when UNAMA began its systematic documentation of civilian casualties.
Ground fighting caused most civilian casualties
Ground engagements between warring sides, particularly in areas populated or frequented by civilians, were the leading cause of civilian casualties, followed by improvised explosive devices, or IEDs, suicide and complex attacks and targeted and deliberate killings.
“The intensification of efforts by Taliban and other anti-government element groups to seize or maintain territory led to a correlated increase in civilian casualties from ground engagements,” said UNAMA.
It added that airstrikes carried out by Afghan and international forces also caused more civilian casualties than in 2015.
Civilian casualties caused by IS also increase
The report noted the number of civilian casualties caused by extremists linked to the so-called Islamic State in Afghanistan increased nearly ten times in 2016 compared to the previous year.
“UNAMA documented 899 civilian casualties (209 deaths and 690 injured) in comparison to 82 civilian casualties (39 deaths and 43 injured) in 2015,” according to the report.
It added that extremists linked to the Middle East-based terrorist group used suicide attacks and targeted killings as primary tactics against civilians, particularly targeting members of the Shia Muslim religious minority.
IS loyalists conducted extremist activities in Afghanistan under its local name, Islamic State Khorasan Province or ISKA. They are mostly operating in the eastern Afghan province of Nangarhar and in parts of neighboring Kunar province, both sharing a border with Pakistan.
The armed conflict in Afghanistan has claimed the lives of around 25,000 Afghan civilians and injured more than 45,000 since 2009, according to UNAMA.