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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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Well known cleric shot dead in Kabul while on his way to mosque

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(Last Updated On: March 3, 2021)

Faiz Mohammad Fayez, former head of the Ulema Council in Kunduz province, was shot dead by unknown gunmen in PD17 of Kabul city early Wednesday morning, Kabul police confirmed.

Police said an investigation is underway.

Meanwhile, a number of residents of Kabul’s Sarkutal Golden Township area said Faiz Mohammad Fayez, was shot dead by two unidentified gunmen as he walked to a mosque this morning.

Kabul police spokesman Ferdows Faramarz confirmed the killing but said early reports indicate it was not a “terrorist act” but a case of murder.

This comes after a prominent Afghan cleric Mohammad Atif was killed about a month ago in an explosion, along with two others, in Kabu.

Mohammad Atif, a well-known cleric from a Kabul-based charity group, was killed when an IED on the vehicle he was traveling in exploded.

No group has claimed responsibility for that attack.

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Red Cross resumes work in Afghanistan after suspending operations

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(Last Updated On: March 2, 2021)

The International Committee of the Red Cross said it has resumed work in Afghanistan and is committed to delivering assistance and emergency aid even to areas under the control of warring factions.

The Afghan Red Crescent Society meanwhile said that in 2020 alone, it recovered nearly 2,000 bodies from the warring parties adding that it is concerned about rising casualties from the fighting in Afghanistan.

“In 2020, we were able to collect 1,693 bodies from war-torn parts of Afghanistan,” said Nilab Mobarez, Secretary General of ARCS.

“Considering the ongoing vulnerabilities, including climate change, the quantity and severity of needs in Afghanistan, the Red Cross and Red Crescent colleagues call on us to support our principled activities across Afghanistan and maximize collective aid and its impact,” said Pierre Kremer, Head of Afghanistan Country Office at International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.

The committee also extended its cooperation with the Afghan Red Crescent for another three years.

The International Committee of the Red Cross suspended its operations in Afghanistan a few months ago due to threats from the Taliban, but resumed its activities in the country after receiving assurances from the group that they could continue with their work.

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Khalilzad meets with key Afghans, explains US position

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(Last Updated On: March 2, 2021)

Zalmay Khalilzad met with a number of influential figures in Kabul on Monday including Marshal Abdul Rashid Dostum, Abdul Rab Rasul Sayyaf, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, members of the Jamiat Party, and others.

Some political figures in Kabul said that during the meetings, Khalilzad explained the position of the new US administration on peace in Afghanistan.

Meanwhile, US House of Foreign Affairs Committee Member Michael McCaul says that the purpose of Khalilzad’s visit to Doha, Afghanistan and other countries in the region is to amend clauses of the peace agreement between the United States and the Taliban.

“Khalilzad has come to announce the new US administration’s approach to Afghanistan and the Taliban,” said Abdul Sattar Murad, a member of the Jamiat-e-Islami leadership council.

Khalilzad may also bring new proposals to Kabul and Doha, the two main centers of decision-making on Afghanistan’s future, sources said.

The US House of Foreign Affairs Committee Member Michael McCaul said that the revision of the Doha agreement, of clauses such as the release of 7,000 Taliban prisoners, the reduction of violence and the extension of the mission of foreign forces after May, is Khalilzad’s responsibility.

The US special envoy has also reportedly noted the views of Afghan government officials and the Taliban on the outcome of the Doha Agreement and negotiations between Afghans.

Some politicians said that Khalilzad did not come to Afghanistan and Qatar to announce the decision of the Biden administration but is rather initiating amendments to the US’s plans for Afghanistan.

“The United States wants to establish a partnership in Afghanistan, and this is not far off, and it wants to convince the Taliban to continue their presence,” said Sayed Ishaq Gailani, head of the National Solidarity Movement of Afghanistan.

Khalilzad who started his trip in Germany will continue on to Doha and other countries in the region.

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