Civilian deaths in Afghanistan hit record high

Militant attacks, suicide bombs main causes of the 1,692 deaths

Afghan security officials inspecting the scene of a suicide bomb attack in Helmand, Afghanistan, on July 14, 2018. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

KABUL • The number of Afghan civilians killed in the country's long-running conflict hit a record high in the first six months this year, United Nations figures showed yesterday, with militant attacks and suicide bombs the leading causes of death.

The toll of 1,692 fatalities was 1 per cent more than a year earlier and the highest for the period since the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (Unama) began keeping records in 2009.

Another 3,430 were wounded in the war, down 5 per cent from the same period last year, the report said. Overall civilian casualties, 5,122, fell 3 per cent year on year.

The record high death toll came despite an unprecedented ceasefire by Afghan security forces and the Taleban last month that was largely respected by both sides, Unama said.

The ceasefire for the first three days of Eid was marked by scenes of jubilation as security forces and Taleban fighters celebrated the Islamic holiday, raising hopes that peace was possible after nearly 17 years of conflict.

But the suspension of hostilities was marred by two suicide attacks in the eastern province of Nangarhar that killed dozens. The attacks were claimed by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militant group, which was not part of the ceasefire.

The Taleban refused a government request to extend the truce, returning to the battlefield and ignoring calls to enter talks with Kabul to end the war.

"The brief ceasefire demonstrated the fighting can be stopped and Afghan civilians no longer need to bear the brunt of the war," said Mr Tadamichi Yamamoto, the UN Secretary-General's special representative for Afghanistan.

"We urge parties to seize all opportunities to find a peaceful settlement, this is the best way that they can protect all civilians."

Suicide bombs and "complex" attacks that involve several militants accounted for 1,413 casualties, 427 deaths and 986 injuries, up 22 per cent from a year earlier. If the trend continues, the figure will top last year's full-year record of nearly 2,300 casualties.

Unama attributed 52 per cent of suicide and complex attacks to ISIS, while the Taleban was responsible for 40 per cent of such attacks.

The latest report comes almost a year after United States President Donald Trump announced his new South Asia strategy that involved ramping up American air strikes against militants.

Civilians have paid a heavy toll for the intensified aerial bombing campaign, with 353 casualties recorded in the first half of the year, up 52 per cent on last year, UNAMA said.

More than half of the civilian casualties were caused by the Afghan Air Force.

One of the worst incidents was in the northern province of Kunduz in April, when an Afghan air strike on an outdoor religious gathering killed or wounded 107 people, a previous Unama report found.

Unama also recorded 341 civilian casualties in election-related violence - a trend that is expected to worsen as the Oct 20 legislative ballot draws closer.


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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 16, 2018, with the headline Civilian deaths in Afghanistan hit record high. Subscribe