Ground engagements and crossfire now killing and injuring more Afghan civilians than IEDs
KABUL/GENEVA (9 July 2014) – Ground combat among parties to the armed conflict in Afghanistan surpassed improvised explosive devices (IEDs) as the leading cause of conflict-related death and injury to Afghan civilians in the first six months of 2014, the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) said today in releasing its 2014 Mid-Year Report on Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict, prepared in coordination with the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.
Ground engagements and crossfire hit children and women with unprecedented force, with associated child casualties more than doubling in the first six months of 2014 and two-thirds more women killed and injured by ground engagements compared with 2013.
While civilian casualties caused by IEDs also increased to unprecedented levels over the same period in 2013, deaths and injuries caused by mortars, rocket-propelled grenades and small arms fire in ground engagements jumped dramatically as the frequency and intensity of these incidents increased in 2014, particularly in areas with concentrated civilian populations.
“The nature of the conflict in Afghanistan is changing in 2014 with an escalation of ground engagements in civilian-populated areas,” said Ján Kubiš, United Nations Special Representative for the Secretary-General in Afghanistan and head of UNAMA. “The impact on civilians, including the most vulnerable Afghans, is proving to be devastating.”
From 1 January to 30 June 2014, UNAMA documented 4,853 civilian casualties, up 24 percent over the same period in 2013. Included in the toll were 1,564 civilian deaths (up 17 percent) and 3,289 injuries (up 28 percent). Ground engagements caused two of every five civilian casualties in 2014 accounting for 39 percent of all civilian casualties: 1,901 in total, up 89 percent from 2013, with 474 civilians killed and 1,427 injured.
Total child civilian casualties increased 34 percent in the first six months of 2014 to 1,071, including 295 killed and 776 injured, while total women civilian casualties increased 24 percent to 440, including 148 killed and 292 injured. Ground engagements took the lives of 112 children and injured 408, with the total 520 child casualties, an increase of 111 percent over 2013. Ground engagements killed 64 Afghan women and injured 192, with the total 256 women casualties, up 61 percent over 2013.
“In 2014, the fight is increasingly taking place in communities, public places and near the homes of ordinary Afghans, with death and injury to women and children in a continued disturbing upward spiral,” said Georgette Gagnon, Director of Human Rights for UNAMA “More efforts are needed to protect civilians from the harms of conflict and to ensure accountability for those deliberately and indiscriminately killing them.”
Improvised explosive devices used by anti-Government Elements, the second leading cause of civilian casualties in 2014, were behind 1,463 civilian casualties, up seven percent from 2013 and the highest number of civilian casualties from this tactic recorded in a six month period since 2009. The use of remote-controlled IEDs increased 13 percent, with 205 incidents causing 637 civilian casualties including 150 deaths and 487 injuries. Of utmost concern, the use of indiscriminate illegal pressure-plate IEDs experienced a resurgence in 2014, killing 161 civilians and injuring 147, with a total 308 civilian casualties, a 33 percent increase over 2013.
Suicide and complex attacks by anti-Government Elements, the third leading cause of civilian casualties, killed 156 and injured 427, with the total of 583 civilian casualties.
In the first half of 2014, the Taliban publicly claimed responsibility for 147 attacks that resulted in 553 civilian casualties with 234 civilians killed and 319 injured. While Taliban fighters appeared to direct 76 of these attacks at military targets that indiscriminately harmed civilians, 69 attacks deliberately targeted civilians including tribal elders, civilian Government and justice sector employees, and civilians in restaurants.
“Afghan civilians continue to pay the highest price in the conflict in Afghanistan,” said Navi Pillay, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.
“I urge the parties to the conflict to take all necessary measures to protect civilians to prevent a further increase in civilian deaths and injuries in the remaining months of 2014.”
“Attacks which fail to distinguish between a military and civilian objective and attacks that deliberately target civilians are serious violations of international humanitarian law and may amount to war crimes,” Pillay added.
UNAMA attributed 74 percent of all civilian casualties to anti-Government Elements and nine percent to pro-Government Forces (eight percent to Afghan national security forces and one per cent to international military forces), while 12 percent occurred in ground engagements between insurgents and Afghan forces which could not be attributed to a specific party. The remaining casualties were caused mainly by explosive remnants of war.
Of the 1,901 civilian casualties resulting from ground combat and crossfire, UNAMA attributed 988 (52 percent) to anti-Government Elements and 274 (14 percent) to pro-Government Forces, while 599 (32 percent) could not be attributed and 38 civilian casualties (two percent) resulted from cross-border shelling.
Compared with the first six months of 2009, when UNAMA began to monitor civilian casualties, the number of civilians killed by anti-Government Elements doubled in 2014 (from 599 to 1,208), while the number of civilians killed by pro-Government forces has been cut by half (from 302 to 158), almost entirely due to reduced civilian casualties from aerial operations of international military forces.
“The long-term trend shows that anti-Government Elements are responsible for an increasingly large share of civilian casualties in the conflict,” said Special Representative Kubiš. “While all parties to the conflict – including Afghan national security forces - must do more to uphold their obligations under international law to avoid harm to civilians, the onus is clearly on the Taliban and other anti-Government Elements to reverse this trend and deliver on their stated commitments to do so.”
For more details, selected accounts from Afghan civilians, recommendations made by UNAMA and pie charts illustrating the figures, please see the attached document.