More Civilians Killed by Pro-Government Forces than Insurgent Forces in Afghanistan in 2019
On Wednesday, the United Nations reported that more Afghani civilians have been killed by the Afghan government and American forces than the Taliban in the first three months of 2019. This marks the first time in the history of UN reports on Afghanistan’s civilian casualties that pro-government forces have killed more civilians than insurgent groups.
The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) first started tracking civilian casualties in 2009. The total number of civilian casualties in Afghanistan has dropped to its lowest levels since 2013 during this period, with a 23% decrease in casualties from the first quarter of 2018. According to the UN’s report, 581 Afghani civilians were killed while 1,192 civilians were injured between January and March of 2019. Terrorist groups accounted for 227 of the 581 civilian deaths, while pro-government forces caused 305 of the total 581 deaths. Terrorist groups caused 736 injuries, while pro-government forces caused 303 injuries.
The fact that 54% of this year’s civilian casualties were caused by pro-government and international forces rather than insurgents was labeled as “shocking” by Tadamichi Yamamoto, the UN’s special representative for Afghanistan. This figure marks a 39% increase in civilian casualties caused by pro-government forces from the first quarter of 2018.
“All parties must do more to safeguard civilians,” Yamamoto warned in a public statement issued after the release of the report. He also called for pro-government forces to “take immediate measures to mitigate the rising death toll.”
The UN report stipulated that a potential factor in explaining the decrease in total civilian casualties was the lower number of suicide bombings that occurred between January and March of 2019, stating that it was “unclear whether the decrease in civilian casualties was influenced by any measures taken by parties to the conflict to better protect civilians, or by the ongoing talks between parties to the conflict.”
35% of the casualties were caused by ground engagements, while 28% were caused by IEDs (improvised explosive device attacks), and 13% were attributed to air strikes, as stated by the UN.
The day after the report was released, US special envoy to Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, Tweeted a response to the findings. His second Tweet reads: “We deeply regret any loss of innocent life during military operations. We never target innocents. War is treacherous & unintended consequences are devastating. While we strive to prevent casualties, real solution is a ceasefire or reduced violence as we pursue lasting peace.”