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Civilian casualty levels in Afghanistan at their worst for five years

Civilian deaths and injuries last year were at their highest since 2009, says the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA). More than 10,000 Afghan civilians were violently killed or injured last year.

Earlier this week, UNAMA released its annual report on the situation of civilians in the armed conflict. The report monitors civilian casualties in Afghanistan to advocate for efforts to protect civilians and to promote accountability.

In 2014, the number of civilian casualties has increased by 22 per cent compared to 2013, when 8,615 civilians were killed and injured in Afghanistan. It was also the year with the highest recorded number of women and children’s deaths and injuries from conflict-related violence in the country since 2009.

UNAMA’s report finds that:

  • There were 10,548 civilian casualties, 3,699 deaths and 6,849 injured in 2014;
  • This represents a 25 percent increase in civilian deaths and a 21 percent increase in injuries and so an overall increase of 22 per cent in civilian casualties compared to 2013;
  • There were 909 women casualties, 298 deaths and 611 injured, a 21 per cent increase from 2013;
  • There were 2,474 children casualties, 714 killed and 1,760 injured, a 40 per cent increased from 2013.

Ground engagements: the biggest civilian killers

Mainly to blame for the rising civilian death toll is an increase in ground-fighting in populated areas where both the Afghan national security forces and the Taliban insurgents are using indirect explosive weapons, such as mortars and rockets, as well as small arms fire. This has resulted in ‘’civilian loss of life and injury reaching unprecedented levels.’’  Ground engagements are putting civilians in danger because they are proving likely to be caught in cross-fire. These incidents have increased by 54 per cent compared to 2013, ‘’making them the leading cause of civilian casualties and the biggest killer of women and children in 2014.’’

There were 3,605 civilian casualties from ground engagements in 2014, with half of them resulting from the use of indirect weapons – predominantly mortars – with a wide area impact.

‘’It was midnight and we were all asleep. A mortar round landed in our bedroom and injured my two small daughters and I,’’ a man said to UNAMA, describing an incident on 16th June 2014, ‘’Everybody in the house ran to our bedroom and saw that were burried in rubble. They started to take us out of the debris when a second mortar round landed, injuring my third small daughter and my son. My wife and my nephew, who were not hurt, continued trying to help us, when a third mortar round landed in the compound, this time killing my wife and injuring my nephew and my fourth daughter. I do not know who fired all the rockets since both Taliban and Afghan national security forces use mortar rounds and rockets against each other.’’

IEDs: An enduring threat

The second leading cause of civilian casualties is Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs), with 2,978 casualties, 925 deaths and 2,053 injuries, a three per cent increase compared to 2013. It is the sixth consecutive year that an increase in deaths and injuries caused by IEDs has been recorded.

Even once the fighting is over, civilians are being killed or injured from explosive remnants of war (ERW). Children are particularly at risk. 327 out of the 422 casualties from ERW – 77 per cent – were children.

 

Explosive weapons, like mortars, rockets and IEDs, are area effect weapons. They kill and injure by projecting blast and fragmentation from around their point of detonation. Afghanistan has long been one of the countries that sees the highest civilian casualty levels. Between 2011-2013, AOAV only recorded a higher civilian toll in Iraq, Syria and neighbouring Pakistan. These weapons are capable of tearing apart lives, livelihoods and infrastructure, and AOAV has long sought to challenge a predictable pattern of harm when these weapons are used in populated areas.

‘’The use of explosive weapons in populated environments is of particular concern, as it inevitably has an indiscriminate and severe humanitarian impact on civilians, both short and long-term,” UNAMA say in their report. “Based on these concerns, the United Nations Secretary-General has urged parties to conflict to refrain from using explosive weapons with a wide-area impact in densely populated areas.’’

AOAV is a founding member of the International Network on Explosive Weapons (INEW), and is working with States, the UN, and civil society to support an international political commitment to end the use of heavy explosive weapons in populated areas.