The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) released its latest report on civilian casualties in Afghanistan yesterday. Once again, UNAMA has identified the Taliban as the prime culprit when it comes to civilian deaths and injuries.
The total number of civilian casualties remained at record high levels during the first six months of 2018. According to UNAMA, 5,122 civilians were killed or wounded during that period. Although the overall casualty figure was down slightly from the same six-month period in 2016 and 2017, it is still comparable to those years.
And the number of civilians killed actually increased by some, with 1,692 people losing their lives due to the violence from January to June of 2018. (By way of comparison, the number of civilian deaths during the first six months of the calendar year was 1,672 in 2017 and 1,644 in 2016.)
UNAMA found that approximately two-thirds (67 per cent) of the civilian casualties — or 3,413 people (1,127 deaths and 2,286 injured) — were caused by violence initiated by what it terms “Anti-Government Elements.” These actors include the Taliban, the Islamic State’s Wilayah Khorasan (or Khorasan “province,” referred to as “Daesh/ISKP” in the report), as well as other parties opposed to the Afghan government.
Among all actors in Afghanistan, including the “Anti-Government Elements,” the Taliban remains the worst perpetrator of violence affecting civilians.
UNAMA attributes 42 per cent of the casualties to the Taliban, with the Islamic State’s Wilayah Khorasan accounting for 18 per cent, and seven per cent caused by “unidentified Anti-Government Elements.” These figures indicate that more than 2,100 deaths and injuries were attributed to the Taliban’s violence, while more than 900 were caused by the Islamic State’s regional arm.
In contrast, UNAMA attributed 20 per cent of civilian casualties — or 1,047 civilians (402 deaths and 645 injuries) — to “Pro-Government Forces.” A significant number of these were caused by the Apr. 2 airstrikes in the Dasht-e-Archi district of Kunduz province, “where Government forces targeted a religious ceremony at a madrassa, causing more than 100 casualties, many of whom were children.” Al Qaeda and affiliated groups around the world, including in Syria, quickly seized on those airstrikes to condemn the US and its allies.
The remaining casualties were attributed to fighting involving both “Anti-Government Elements” and “Pro-Government Forces,” as well as “Other” causes, including actions taken by the Pakistani military.
The Taliban’s propagandists bristled at UNAMA’s report, claiming that that it had “once again showed its sympathy with American invaders and covered their daily crimes.” The Taliban’s statement was not surprising, as it echoed past condemnations. UNAMA has consistently blamed the Taliban for more civilian casualties than any other party, an accusation that runs counter to the jihadists’ attempts to build popular support.
UNAMA’s report contains other noteworthy observations.
First, there was a significant increase in the number of people affected by attacks “deliberately targeting civilians” — that is, terrorist operations against men, women and children.
Overall, UNAMA found a “28 per cent” increase in casualties due to violence intentionally directed at non-combatants as “compared with the first half of 2017.” This increase is “mainly due to sharp increases in” operations targeting “civilian government administration” and “election-related incidents.” Both the Taliban and the Islamic State’s men claimed more direct attacks on civilians during the first six months of 2018 than in the same period in 2017.
Second, “suicide and complex attacks” have become more lethal over time, and the Islamic State’s arm was more deadly than the Taliban in this regard. More than half of the casualties from “suicide and complex” attacks were attributed to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s loyalists.
Although UNAMA’s report does not list all such incidents, its figures for “suicide and complex attacks” likely include operations in Kabul such as: the May 30 assault on Afghanistan’s Ministry of Interior, the June 4 bombing at a religious conference, and the June 11 bombing outside of the Afghan Ministry of Rural Rehabilitation and Development, among others claimed by the Islamic State. The Taliban has also carried out “martyrdom” bombings that deliberately killed and maimed civilians in the Afghan capital and elsewhere.
Third, UNAMA says that the deliberate targeting of Afghanistan’s Shiite Muslim population remains a significant problem, accounting for “366 civilian casualties (115 deaths and 251 injured)” during the reporting period. Almost all of these were caused by “suicide and complex attacks” claimed by the Islamic State’s Wilayah Khorasan. Like the so-called caliphate’s mother organization, Wilayah Khorasan has made sectarian killings a priority.