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Sharp rise in Afghan civilian casualties after start of peace talks: UN 

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(Last Updated On: February 23, 2021)

There has been an increase in civilians killed and injured in Afghanistan following the start of peace talks in September, UNAMA said Tuesday. 

According to the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan’s (UNAMA) latest report, despite the rise in casualties since September the overall numbers for 2020 were down due to lower civilian casualty rates prior to the start of talks. 

The Taliban meanwhile reacted to the report and said: ”We reject such incomplete reports based on incorrect information.”

The Afghanistan Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict Annual Report 2020 documents the “appalling level of harm inflicted on civilians and traces the disturbing spike in violence against them in the last quarter of the year”, the report read.

“2020 could have been the year of peace in Afghanistan. Instead, thousands of Afghan civilians perished due to the conflict,” said Deborah Lyons, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan and head of UNAMA. 

“This important report has the overriding objective of providing the parties responsible with the facts, and recommendations, so they take immediate and concrete steps to protect civilians. I urge them not to squander a single day in taking the urgent steps to avoid more suffering.”

“Ultimately, the best way to protect civilians is to establish a humanitarian ceasefire,” said Lyons. 

“Parties refusing to consider a ceasefire must recognize the devastating consequences of such a posture on the lives of Afghan civilians.”

For a seventh consecutive year, UNAMA documented more than 3,000 civilians killed in a single year, with Afghanistan remaining among the deadliest places in the world to be a civilian.

A distressing feature of the conflict remains the shocking and disproportionate impact on Afghan women and children. They make up 43 percent of all civilian casualties: child casualties numbered 2,619 (30 percent) and women 1,146 (13 percent). 

More women were killed in the conflict in 2020 than any year since UNAMA began systematic documentation in 2009. In total 1,150 women and children were killed (390 women and 760 children).

The overall number of civilian casualties in 2020 of 8,820 (3,035 killed and 5,785 injured) fell below 10,000 for the first time since 2013 and was 15 percent down on 2019. 

While the reduced numbers are welcome, documentation shows that the lower levels of overall harm were partially offset by increases from certain tactics, as well as from an uncharacteristic increase in civilian harm in the last quarter of the year, the report read.

Afghanistan Peace Negotiations, that began between representatives of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and the Taliban in Qatar on 12 September, failed to alleviate the scale of civilian harm, a key indicator of violence levels. Instead, there was an escalation of violence with disturbing trends and consequences.

For the first time since it began systematic documentation in 2009, UNAMA documented an increase in the number of civilian casualties recorded in the fourth quarter compared with the third quarter. In addition, this period marked a 45 percent increase in civilian casualties in comparison to the same three months in 2019, especially from the use of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and targeted killings.

In October, civilian casualties were the highest of any month in 2020, and the following month UNAMA documented the highest number of civilian casualties of any November since records began in 2009. 

Alongside the overall increase in violence, as the year ended, the population was confronted with a spate of targeted killings, referred to by many as “assassinations”, including civilians from the media, civil society, judiciary and the civilian government administration, as well as family members of combatants.

The United Nations Secretary-General and the Security Council have consistently called for a global humanitarian ceasefire as the best way to protect civilians. Without any end to the conflict, parties need to prevent and mitigate civilian casualties, including through adhering to the report’s recommendations. 

The report also reminds the parties that attacks deliberately targeting civilians or civilian objects are serious violations of international humanitarian law that may amount to war crimes.

Anti-Government Elements (AGEs) in 2020 caused the majority of civilian casualties (62 percent), totalling 5,459 casualties – 1,885 killed and 3,574 injured with the Taliban responsible for most of these casualties (45 percent of the total) and Islamic State in the Levant-Khorasan Province (ISIL-KP) responsible for 8 percent.

Pro-Government Forces (PGF) caused a quarter of all civilian casualties, totalling 2,231 (841 killed and 1,390 injured), a decrease of 24 percent from 2019, with the Afghan national security forces causing most of these (22 percent of the total).

The overall reduction in civilian casualties in 2020 was due to factors such as fewer suicide attacks by AGEs causing large numbers of civilian casualties, especially in urban areas, and a stark drop in casualties attributed to international military forces.

While there was an increase in the number of civilian casualties that were unclaimed by any party and for which UNAMA could not attribute responsibility, the report finds that the Taliban caused 19 percent fewer civilian casualties than in 2019 and the ISIL-KP 45 percent fewer.

Strikingly, international military forces in 2020 were responsible for their lowest recorded number of civilian casualties since UNAMA began documentation in 2009. In 2020, this figure was 120 civilian casualties, down from 786 in 2019, a decrease of 85 percent.

A matter of profound concern remains the continuation of attacks deliberately targeting civilians by AGEs. This includes attacks targeting members of the judiciary, media and civil society, as well as religious minorities, especially the Shi’a Muslim population, most of whom also belong to the Hazara ethnic group, and the Sikh population.

Indiscriminate attacks, such as the use of pressure-plate IEDs by the Taliban also remain of concern. These devices are victim-activated and cannot be directed towards a specific target. Similarly, concerns remain about vehicle-borne IEDs that cause many civilian casualties due to the large explosive power used, even if they are not directed against civilians or civilian objects.   

Also of grave concern is the use of explosive weapons in civilian populated areas, especially the use of indirect fire, such as artillery shells, mortars and rockets during ground engagements, but also the use of airstrikes and IEDs in civilian populated areas. 

Ground engagements were the leading cause of civilian casualties in 2020 (36 percent), a slight increase compared with 2019. They were followed by AGE suicide and non-suicide attacks using improvised explosive devices (34.5 percent), a 30 percent decrease. AGE targeted killings (14 percent) increased by 45 percent; and PGF airstrikes (8 percent) were down 34 percent.

Through post incident interviews with victims and their family members, UNAMA identified that more needs to be done by parties in acknowledging and taking responsibility for the harm they caused. The majority of victims interviewed continued to require financial assistance, protection, medical care, and psychosocial support in the aftermath of an incident. Many knew little if anything about whether an investigation was being undertaken, and sought justice, information and/or an apology by those responsible.

“The ever-growing number of women, men, boys and girls affected by the conflict need to be remembered. They have lost loved ones, suffered injuries, have had to leave their homes and face economic and social difficulties. In too many cases they feel abandoned,” said Fiona Frazer, UNAMA’s Human Rights chief. 

“They ask that their grief be recognised, their voices heard and an end to the conflict. 2020 was the year when Afghans dared to hope for peace, instead they found themselves facing more violence.”

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Pakistan reopens Afghanistan border crossing held by Taliban

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(Last Updated On: July 27, 2021)

Pakistan on Monday reopened a major southwestern border crossing with Afghanistan that is currently under Taliban control on the Afghan side, Pakistani customs officials said, allowing over 100 trucks carrying goods to cross into Afghanistan.

The Chaman-Spin Boldak crossing, a key port for landlocked Afghanistan, had been closed by Pakistan for commercial traffic since fierce fighting for control of the crossing erupted between Taliban insurgents and Afghan security forces earlier this month, Reuters reported.

“Pakistan has opened its border with Afghanistan at Chaman today and resumed Afghan Transit Trade which was suspended since the last one month,” Arif Kakar, a senior official of the Chaman border district, told Reuters.

He said it would remain open six days a week.

Two Pakistani customs officials, requesting anonymity, told Reuters that Spin Boldak and the border town of Wesh were still under Taliban control, and they did not know what arrangements were in place across the border or who was clearing the goods through customs.

They said Pakistani officials were under pressure by traders to let trucks pass through as the goods they were carrying would otherwise perish, Reuters reported.

Afghanistan’s interior and finance ministries, and the Taliban spokesman, did not respond to requests for comment.

U.S. Marine General Kenneth McKenzie, head of U.S. Central Command, which oversees American forces in Afghanistan, told reporters in Kabul on Sunday that Spin Boldak was a “contested space” and the Afghan government was looking to regain control of it.

Relations between neighbours Afghanistan and Pakistan have taken a sharp downturn in recent weeks, particularly over repeated allegations by Kabul that Pakistan is backing the Taliban – a charge Islamabad denies, Reuters reported.

The Taliban has escalated its offensive since the United States announced in April that it would withdraw its troops by September, ending a 20-year foreign military presence.

Reeling from battlefield losses, Afghanistan’s military is overhauling its war strategy to concentrate forces around critical areas such as Kabul and other cities, and border crossings.

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U.S. issues new flight restrictions over Afghanistan

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(Last Updated On: July 27, 2021)

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) said on Monday it has imposed new flight restrictions over Afghanistan for U.S. airlines and other U.S. operators in response to the changing security environment.

The FAA, in an emergency order effective Sunday, said flights operating below 26,000 feet are prohibited in the Kabul Flight Information Region, which largely covers Afghanistan, unless operating in and out of Hamid Karzai International Airport, citing the risk “posed by extremist/militant activity.”

The restrictions do not apply to U.S. military operations.

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US envoy says Taliban indifference to lives of Afghan civilians

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(Last Updated On: July 26, 2021)

Ross Wilson, Chargé d’ Affaires of the US Embassy in Kabul, said Monday that the Taliban is “reticence” to meaningful peace talks and that shows “their indifference toward Afghan civilian lives.”

Wilson said in a tweet: “Each day, this country suffers more death and destruction that could be stopped through good faith efforts at the negotiation table.”

This comes after the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afganistan (UNAMA) warned Monday Afghanistan could see the highest number of civilian deaths in more than a decade if the Taliban’s offensives are not stopped.

In its six-monthly report, released Monday, UNAMA also stated the pursuit of a military solution will only increase the suffering of the Afghan people and warned that Afghan troops and pro-government forces were responsible for a quarter of all civilian casualties.

According to the report, as many as 1,659 civilians were killed and another 3,254 wounded during the first half of 2021, a 47 percent increase compared with the same period last year, the UNAMA report said.

UNAMA blamed anti-government elements for 64 percent of civilian casualties — including some 40 percent caused by the Taliban and nearly nine percent by Daesh.

About 16 percent of casualties were caused by “undetermined” anti-government elements.

But Afghan troops and pro-government forces were responsible for 25 percent, it said.

UNAMA said about 11 percent of casualties were caused by “crossfire” and the responsible parties could not be determined.

According to UNAMA, women comprised 14 percent of all civilian casualties during this period, with a total of 727 women casualties recorded (219 killed and 508 injured), an increase of 82 percent compared with the first six months of last year.

Meanwhile, Ross Wilson stated that the UNAMA report is heartbreaking.

“The numbers in the UNAMA report are heartbreaking: 32% of the civilian casualties in the first six months of 2021 were children,” he said.

The US diplomat called on warring parties that “for the sake of the nation and the country’s future, Afghanistan needs a Ceasefire Now.”

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