A senior United Nations official today voiced grave concern regarding reports that three children may have been among those killed during an airstrike by international military forces in southern Afghanistan.
“This reminds us that Afghan children remain among the most vulnerable in the ongoing conflict in Afghanistan,” the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, Leila Zerrougui, said in a press statement.
According to the UN-mandated International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), Sunday’s airstrike was targeting Taliban insurgents in Helmand province. However, two boys and one girl, who were collecting firewood nearby, were also allegedly killed.
Although ISAF has been implementing standard operating procedures that aim at better protecting children in the course of military operations, this is not the first incident that leads to child casualties, she noted.
“We are awaiting the results of ISAF investigations on this incident. In the meantime, we reiterate that all efforts should be undertaken to ensure that children are protected in all military operations,” Ms. Zerrougui stated.
A UN report released in February found that the number of civilian casualties resulting from the conflict in Afghanistan has risen for a fifth consecutive year, with the vast majority of deaths – 77 per cent – caused by anti-Government forces. It recorded 3,021 civilian deaths in 2011 – an increase of eight per cent on the previous year’s total of 2,790.
The report also found that while the number of civilians killed by pro-Government forces fell overall last year, the number killed from aerial attacks rose. It called on international military forces to further review their procedures aimed at preventing any incidental loss of civilian life in the carrying out of military operations, especially aerial attacks.