Civilian casualties in Afghanistan soared to a record high in the first half of 2016, the UN said on Monday, with children in particular paying a heavy price as insurgents step up fighting and insecurity grows.
The UN report, which comes two days after the deadliest attack in Kabul since 2001, cited ground combat between militants and NATO-backed Afghan forces as the leading cause of casualties.
Between January and June, 1,601 civilians were killed and 3,565 were wounded — a four percent increase in casualties compared to the same period last year, the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) said.
The casualties have reached their highest level since the UN began issuing its authoritative reports in 2009.
The casualties include 1,509 children -– roughly one-third of the total — a figure the UN described as “alarming and shameful”.
“Every single casualty documented in this report –- people killed while praying, working, studying, fetching water, recovering in hospitals –- every civilian casualty represents a failure of commitment and should be a call to action for parties to the conflict to take meaningful steps to reduce civilians’ suffering,” UNAMA chief Tadamichi Yamamoto said.
“Platitudes not backed by meaningful action ring hollow over time. History and the collective memory of the Afghan people will judge leaders of all parties to this conflict by their actual conduct.”
The UN report said insurgent groups including the Taliban were responsible for the majority –- 60 percent –- of civilian casualties.
But it also reported a 47 percent increase in the number of casualties caused by pro-government forces, compared to the same period last year.
“The testimony of victims and their families brings into agonising focus the tragedy of… this protracted conflict since 2009,” said Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.
“The family that lost a breadwinner, forcing the children to leave school and struggle to make ends meet; the driver who lost his limbs, depriving him of his livelihood; the man who went to the bazaar to shop for his children only to return home to find them dead.”
The report comes after the deadliest attack for 15 years in Kabul killed 80 people and left hundreds maimed, an assault claimed by IS.
The twin bombings on Saturday tore through crowds of minority Shiite Hazaras as they gathered to demand that a multi-million-dollar power line pass through their electricity-starved province of Bamiyan, one of the most deprived areas of Afghanistan.