Afghanistan: More than 10,000 civilian casualties in 2017, says UN

The overall civilian toll fell by 9 percent compared to 2016, but the number of deaths from airstrikes saw a significant jump. A resurgent Taliban and "Islamic State" militants inflicted a bulk of the casualties.

The United Nations said on Thursday that more than 10,000 civilians were killed or wounded in the ongoing war in Afghanistan in 2017, with militant bombings responsible for inflicting a major proportion of casualties.

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What does the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) report say?

  • The overall civilian toll last year was 3,438 killed and 7,015 wounded, down 9 percent from 2016.
  • 2017 was the fourth consecutive year, where the UN recorded more than 10,000 civilian causalities.
  • Nearly two-thirds of all casualties were caused by anti-government elements with the Taliban and the "Islamic State" (IS) inflicting maximum damage.
  • Pro-government forces caused a fifth of the casualties with 16 percent attributed to Afghan forces, 2 percent to international forces.
  • Casualties caused by airstrikes jumped 7 percent.
  • Number of women killed in the conflict rose 5 percent.
  • Child casualties — 861 killed and 2,318 injured — fell by 10 percent compared with 2016.
  • Suicide and complex attacks caused 22 percent of all civilian casualties.

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'Chilling statistics'

Tadamichi Yamamoto, the UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan said: "The chilling statistics in this report provide credible data about the war's impact, but the figures alone cannot capture the appalling human suffering inflicted on ordinary people, especially women and children."

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad al Hussein said: "Afghan civilians have been killed going about their daily lives — traveling on a bus, praying in a mosque, simply walking past a building that was targeted."

"Such attacks are prohibited under international humanitarian law and are likely, in most cases, to constitute war crimes. The perpetrators must be identified and held accountable," he said.

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What is the Afghan conflict: Afghanistan has been mired in conflict since 2001 when the United States launched an offensive against the Taliban militants in response to the 9/11 attack. The US and NATO forces concluded their combat mission in 2014 and shifted to a training role. But the conflict rages on with a resurgent Taliban stepping up attacks and the emergence of an IS affiliate.

Deadliest attack in 2017: The worst attack since the UN mission began recording civilian casualties in 2009 occurred in Kabul on May 31 when a suicide attacker detonated a truck bomb, killing 92 civilians and injuring 491.

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Fragile security

Repeated attacks in Afghanistan over the past several months have killed and wounded hundreds of innocent Afghans, and shown the world the fragile and worsening state of security in the conflict-stricken country. The incidents have plunged war-weary Afghan citizens into a state of despair and highlighted the limitations faced by the government in Kabul in ensuring public security.

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A long series of attacks

The violent incidents have made Afghanistan once again a staple of international headlines. Outfits like the Taliban and the "Islamic State" (IS) have claimed responsibility for the attacks. The Afghan government is under heavy pressure to restore security and take back territory controlled by a number of insurgent groups, including the Taliban and IS.

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Spring offensive

Last week, the Taliban announced the start of their annual spring offensive, dismissing an offer of peace talks by President Ashraf Ghani. The militants, fighting to restore their version of strict Islamic law to Afghanistan, said their campaign was a response to a more aggressive US military strategy adopted last year, which aims to force the militants into peace talks.

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Trump's Afghanistan policy

US President Donald Trump unveiled a new strategy for Afghanistan last year, vowing to deploy more troops, on top of the 11,000 already in the country, to train and advise Afghan security forces. Trump also pledged to support Afghan troops in their war against the Taliban and maintain American presence in the country for as long as there was a need for it.

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Afghan peace process

Despite President Ghani's offer in February for peace talks "without preconditions," the Taliban have shown no interest, dismissing the peace overtures as a "conspiracy." Observers say it is unlikely that the militant group will engage in any negotiations, as they currently have the upper hand on the battleground. The Taliban now control more Afghan districts than at any other time since 2001.

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Pakistani support

Pakistan has been under pressure from Kabul and Washington to stop offering safe havens to militants blamed for attacks in Afghanistan, a charge Islamabad denies and insists that its influence over the insurgents has been exaggerated. Kabul and Islamabad regularly trade accusations of harboring the other country's militants and the harsh language has underscored the strains between them.

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Role of the warlords

Apart from the Taliban, Afghan warlords exercise massive influence in the country. Last year, Hizb-i-Islami leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar returned to Kabul after a 20-year exile to play an active role in Afghan politics. In September 2016, the Afghan government signed a deal with Hekmatyar in the hope that other warlords and militant groups would seek better ties with Kabul.

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An inefficient government

In the midst of an endless battle for power, President Ghani's approval ratings continue to plummet. Rampant corruption in the Afghan government and a long tug-of-war within the US-brokered national unity government has had a negative impact on the government's efforts to eradicate terrorism.

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ap/rt (AP, Reuters)

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