2016 – The Deadliest Year of Conflict in Terms of Civilian Casualties in Afghanistan, says UNAMA

By: Saddam Hussein

The year 2016 was recorded as the deadliest year in terms of civilian causalities by the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) in its Annual Report 2016 on Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict released early February 2017, since the body began its systematic documentation in 2009.  Over 11,000 civilian casualties (killed or injured) were recorded in the ongoing conflict within Afghanistan in the last year. In addition, 2016 was also the most noxious for the Afghan children and, in particular, for the residents of Kabul irrespective of age. Though, civilian causalities resulting from targeted killings and improvised explosive devices (IEDs) experienced a slight drop, however; it could not compensate the overall increase in casualties. The report documented the highest number of civilians killed and injured in ground engagements, suicide and complex attacks and aerial strikes in any year.

A total of 11,418 civilian casualties were observed in 2016 which constituted 3,498 fatalities and 7,920 injured. While the year 2016 witnessed an overall 3% rise in the number of casualties as compared to 2015, there was a 2% decrease in the number of fatalities and a 6% increase in those injured. The number of female civilian causalities recorded were 1,218 (341 deaths, 877 injured) in 2016 showing a 2% reduction compared to 2015. The number of child casualties rose to 3,512 (923 deaths, 2,589 injured) which is a 24% rise when compared with 2015.

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Most of these cases were reported in ground engagements; 4,295 civilian casualties (1,070 deaths and 3,225 injured). This is a 3% increase when compared with 2015 and overall the highest recorded figure since documentation started in 2009 by UNAMA. The next highest figure of casualties recorded was due to improvised explosive devices (IEDs) which claimed 700 civilian deaths and injured 1,456, totaling 2,156 causalities; a 9% decrease than the preceding year. Suicide and complex attacks claimed 398 lives and injured 1,565 accounting for a total of 1,963 civilian casualties. Targeted and deliberate killings by anti-government elements caused 1,118 civilian causalities, including 574 deaths and 544 injured; a 16% drop was witnessed in comparison to 2015. Targeted killings by pro-government forces escalated by 52% in 2016 compared to the preceding year victimizing 106 civilians comprising 81 deaths and 25 injured. Explosive remnants of war affected 724 civilians; counting 217 deaths and 507 injured (an increase of 66% than the previous year, the highest recorded). Aerial operations killed 250 civilians and injured 340 making the aggregate of 590 in this category. This is the highest recorded figure and 99% more than 2015.

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The groups responsible for civilian causalities fall mainly in two categories i.e. the anti-government elements and pro-government forces. Anti-government elements can further be categorized into Taleban, Islamic State Khorasan Province (ISKP) and other Afghan and foreign insurgents groups. These groups together are responsible for the 61% of total civilian casualties in 2016 beckoning an increase of 2% than 2015. 6,994 civilian causalities occurred in total by comprising 2,131 deaths and 4,863 injured.

3Dis-aggregating the data of causalities according to specific groups, Taleban are responsible for 4,953 civilian casualties (1,618 deaths and 3,335 injured), ISKP (Daesh) for 899 civilian casualties (209 deaths and 690 injured) and other unidentified anti-government elements for 1,099 civilian casualties (286 deaths and 813 injured). Major causes of deaths by anti-government factions in descending order are IEDs, suicide and complex attacks, ground engagements, targeted and deliberate killings.

4Pro-Government forces include Afghan National Security Forces [ANSF], international forces and pro-government armed groups. 24% of the civilian causalities i.e. 2,728 (903 deaths and 1,825 injured) are attributed to the pro-government forces in the report, surging to 46% as compared to 2015. Pro-governments forces liable for the causalities can be broken down as; Afghan National Security Forces: 2,281 civilian casualties (706 deaths and 1575 injured – 20% of total), pro-government armed groups: 185 civilian casualties (52 deaths and 133 injured – 2% of total) and international forces: 262 casualties (145 deaths and 117 injured – 2% of total). Main causes of death by pro-government forces in descending order are ground engagements, aerial operations, targeted and deliberate killings.

Ground engagements in which civilian casualties could not be attributed to a specific party make 10% of the aggregate and explosive remnants of war make 5% of the total civilian casualties in Afghanistan.

The year 2016 witnessed thorough desolation as now the Afghans are fighting at both ends with each other. Taleban initiate most of the conflict and Afghan National Security Forces confront them, causing large number of civilian causalities in ground combating. The war also compelled almost 500,000 Afghans to migrate to other regions within the country. A 40% surge in migration was witnessed in 2016 when compared with 2015. Nearly 15% of the districts were lost to Taleban this year. Currently only 63% of the districts are under government’s control, as reported by SIGAR. The report also states that ANSF tactically retreated in some areas to strengthen their hold in the areas they govern.

According to UNAMA’s report, Helmand was the province most severely hit by ground engagements in 2016 with 164 civilians killed and 333 injured. The other provinces hardest hit by ground engagements were: Uruzgan province – 520 civilian casualties (154 deaths and 366 injured); Faryab province – 309 civilian casualties (84 deaths and 225 injured); and Kunduz province – 342 civilian casualties (75 deaths and 267 injured).

The report also analyzes how conflict severely harms the lives of common people by causing causalities, internal migration, wrecking homes and limiting freedom as a consequence of abduction, intimidation, medical sufferings and occupation of schools by parties in conflict. The report concludes by putting forth certain recommendations to minimize the conflict. It suggests that the parties involved in conflict must comply with international humanitarian laws to minimize civilian causalities in conflict zones. Anti-government forces should cease the intentional premeditated targeting of civilians and the usage of IEDs.

Taliban should enforce the statements of their leadership which forbid attacks against civilians in populous areas. Afghan Government should develop and implement tactical directions and rules of engagement in conflict situations. It should adopt a policy on Civilian Causality Prevention and Mitigation. Further, they must disband and disarm all illegal armed groups. International forces should help Afghan government in executing the National Policy on Civilian Casualty Prevention and Mitigation in the conduct of hostilities and develop a suitable action plan which should take into account the concrete objectives to avert civilian casualties in situations of conflict.

The author Saddam Hussein is a research intern at the Center for Research and Security Studies (CRSS).

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