Civilian deaths in Afghanistan reached 9-year peak in 2018

Ongoing peace talks between Washington and the Taliban could see the end of the 18-year-long conflict in Afghanistan, but many fear that a potential US pullout could plunge the country into a bloody civil war.

More civilians were killed in Afghanistan in 2018 than in any of the previous nine years of the protracted conflict, according to a United Nations report released on Sunday.

The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) blamed the spike in deaths on increased suicide bombings by militant groups and aerial attacks by US-led coalition forces.

The UNAMA annual report said that 10,993 civilians were killed or wounded last year, the highest number since the international organization started recording figures in 2009.

"In total, UNAMA documented 10,993 civilian casualties (3,804 deaths and 7,189 injured), representing a five percent increase in overall civilian casualties and an 11 percent increase in civilian deaths compared to 2017," the report said.

"Key factors contributing to the significant increase in civilian casualties were a spike in suicide attacks by AGEs (Anti-Government Elements), mainly Daesh/ISKP (Islamic State Khorosan Province), as well as increased harm to civilians from aerial and search operations by pro-government forces. 2018 witnessed the highest number of civilian casualties ever recorded from suicide attacks and aerial operations," the UNAMA report added.

According to the report, 63 percent of all civilian casualties were caused by Islamists — 37 percent by the Taliban, 20 percent by "Islamic State" (IS), and 6 percent by other armed groups. The Afghan government and NATO allies were blamed for 24 percent of the dead and wounded caught in the crossfire.

Read more: Germany's Afghanistan military mission: What comes next?

The endless battle for power in Afghanistan

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.

The endless battle for power in Afghanistan

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.

The endless battle for power in Afghanistan

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.

The endless battle for power in Afghanistan

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.

The endless battle for power in Afghanistan

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.

The endless battle for power in Afghanistan

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.

The endless battle for power in Afghanistan

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.

The endless battle for power in Afghanistan

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.

Efforts to end war

Tadamichi Yamamoto, the UN secretary general's special representative for Afghanistan, said that in total more than 32,000 civilians have been killed and 60,000 have been injured in Afghanistan in a decade.

"The report's rigorously researched findings show that the level of harm and suffering inflicted on civilians in Afghanistan is deeply disturbing and wholly unacceptable," said Yamamoto. "All parties need to take immediate and additional concrete steps to stop a further escalation in the number of civilians harmed and lives destroyed."

International efforts to end the violent conflict are underway, with the US holding talks with the Taliban. Several rounds of peace talks have been held in the past few months, however the Afghan government's involvement in them has been minimal.

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Read more: Afghanistan: Can peace prevail?

US President Donald Trump has already hinted at a possible withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan, but some analysts have warned against it, arguing that it could initiate a violent battle among several armed groups for the control of the country.

"I am concerned that the withdrawal plans are being hurried up. If the US goes ahead with it, it will be a new tragedy for Afghans. The people of Afghanistan deserve long-term support," Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, a former secretary general of NATO, told DW.

"But let me be clear that nobody is interested in a permanent military presence in Afghanistan, so it will happen some day. Afghans must understand this," he added.

Read more: US pledges 'no unilateral troop reduction' in Afghanistan

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DW News | 30.01.2019

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