In the first three months of 2015, civilian casualties from ground engagements rose by eight per cent compared to the same period last year, according to the latest figures released today by the United Nations with warning that the toll is likely to rise in the coming summer months.
The numbers were released today by the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), which found that ground fighting between Pro-Government Forces and Anti-Government Elements caused 521 civilian casualties – that is 136 civilians killed and 385 injured.
Most of the casualties are caused by 'Anti-Government Elements' (73 per cent), with 'Pro-Government Forces' responsible for just under a quarter (14 per cent). Following the release of the latest figures, UN officials in the country called on all parties but especially the Taliban to “cease attacks against people who are not taking a direct part in hostilities.”
“The parties in particular should refrain from using mortars and rockets in any areas populated by civilians,” Nicholas Haysom, the Secretary-General's Special Representative for Afghanistan and head of UNAMA, urged in a statement to the press.
Between 1 January and 31 March, UNAMA documented 266 civilian casualties (62 deaths and 204 injured) from mortars and rockets, up 43 per cent from the same period last year and accounting for half of civilian casualties from ground engagements.
Calling the spike in casualties a “seasonal resumption of higher levels of conflict-related violence,” Mr. Haysom, along with his colleagues at the Mission, expressed concern over the impact on civilians of further conflict-related operations between Government and Anti-Government forces in the next several months.
“With all signs pointing to increased ground conflict in the coming months, with devastating consequences for civilians, parties must act urgently on the commitments they've made to prevent harm to civilians, especially women and children,” Georgette Gagnon, Director of Human Rights for UNAMA, said today.
Ms. Gagnon also pointed out that women and child casualties have surpassed the unprecedented levels recorded in 2014. Women casualties increased 15 per cent compared to the first three months of 2014. Conflict-related violence killed 55 women and injured 117 and 123 children and injured 307.
“The consequences of the conflict go far beyond the horrific loss of life and injury to civilians. Conflict-related violence also devastates Afghan families through displacement, loss of livelihood, destruction of homes and other losses,” she said.
After ground engagements, Improvised Explosive Devices or IEDs were the second leading cause of civilian casualties in the first quarter of 2015, with 155 deaths and 275 injured. Targeted killings, the third cause, increased by 34 per cent in the first three months of 2015, with UNAMA documenting 309 civilian casualties.
The Taliban has claimed responsibility for 48 incidents of targeted killings, including deliberate killings of tribal elders, judges, prosecutors and civilian Government workers.
“The UN notes that direct attacks on civilians are strictly prohibited under international law which binds all parties to the conflict and may amount to war crimes,” said Ms. Gagnon.
Casualties caused by suicide attacks remained on par with 2014 levels with 55 deaths and 213 injuries. Civilian casualties from aerial operations by international military forces declined 42 per cent compared to the first quarter of 2014, with seven civilian deaths and eight injuries.
Total civilian deaths and injuries in the first quarter of 2015 followed the record high levels of 2014. Between 1 January and 31 March, UNAMA documented 655 deaths and 1,155 injuries.