- Increased fighting causes more than 5,100 casualties in period
- U.S. President Obama slowed troop draw-down plans this month
The number of Afghan civilians killed or wounded in the first half of 2016 reached a record high as the country’s conflict intensified with the Taliban insurgency gaining momentum, according a United Nations report.
The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan documented 1,601 civilian deaths and 3,565 injured in the six months through June, an increase of 4 percent compared to the same period last year and the highest since the agency began counting in 2009.
In total, the war in Afghanistan has killed or maimed 63,934 people since the UN began compiling the data. The conflict against the Taliban, now in its 15th year, has cost the U.S. more than $700 billion and killed more than 2,300 American soldiers, with the increasingly bloody fighting forcing President Barack Obama this month to slow troop withdrawal plans.
“The violations laid bare in this report set in motion a cascade of potential human rights abuses that stretch from Afghanistan to the Mediterranean and beyond, as so many Afghans are driven to seek refuge abroad, taking enormous risks,” UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said. “Parties to the conflict must cease the deliberate targeting of civilians and the use of heavy weaponry in civilian-populated areas.”
The report was released after 80 people were killed and 231 were wounded when suicide bombers triggered two explosions on Saturday at a rally of hundreds of ethnic Hazaras in the Afghan capital, Kabul. The attacks were claimed by Islamic State, four months after President Ashraf Ghani claimed the militant group had been wiped out in Afghanistan.
While anti-government forces caused 60 percent of the casualties in the first half, the UN said at least 1,180 were attributed to forces allied with Kabul’s government, a 47 percent increase from the same period last year. Most were due to ground engagements, with suicide attacks and improvised explosive devices the second largest cause.
“The increasing number of civilian casualties in Afghanistan is a big concern,” Franz-Michael Mellbin, the European Union’s special representative to Afghanistan, said in a statement on Monday. “The horrific attack on the civilian protesters in Kabul on Saturday showed that use of indiscriminate and random attacks kills and injures more and more innocent Afghans.”
With Afghan government forces struggling to take and keep territory from the Taliban, Obama slowed plans to withdraw American troops, with about 8,400 U.S. military personnel set to remain in the country at the end of the year.
The U.S. had previously planned to draw down troop levels in Afghanistan from 9,800 to about 5,500 by the end of the Obama administration. That pace already represented a retreat from initial plans to reduce the footprint of American soldiers to just 1,000 based out of the Kabul embassy by 2017.
White House officials told reporters this month that a resolution will require the Taliban and Afghan government to negotiate a truce, an outcome they acknowledged is complicated by the Taliban’s reluctance to engage in talks.