In Afghanistan, Civilian Deaths Were Up 7 Percent in 2013, Says the UN

In Afghanistan, Civilian Deaths Were Up 7 Percent in 2013, Says the UN

In Afghanistan, Civilian Deaths Were Up 7 Percent in 2013, Says the UN

The United States may be leaving, but the war that Washington started in 2001—thirteen years ago—isn’t over.


The United Nations has released the latest numbers on civilian deaths in Afghanistan, and they don’t look good. Overall, the number of civilians killed in the war that everyone in the United States has stopped thinking about rose seven percent in 2013 over 2012, and the number of those injured rose seventeen percent. In sheer numbers, that translates into 2,959 killed and 5,656 injured. As many as 1,756 of the casualties were children.

Said Georgette Gagnon, the UN official in charge of human rights at UNAMA, the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan:

It is particularly alarming that the number of Afghan women and children killed and injured in the conflict increased again in 2013. It is the awful reality that most women and children were killed and injured in their daily lives—at home, on their way to school, working in the fields or traveling to a social event. This situation demands even greater commitment and further efforts by the parties to protect women and children from conflict-related violence.

As detailed at great length in a special report published in The Nation last fall and written by this reporter and Nick Turse, the UN’s figures tend to understate the numbers substantially.

According to the UN, about three-quarters of the civilian casualties were caused by what the UN calls “anti-government elements,” i.e., the Taliban and its allies, which is actually a drop from the four-fifths of the deaths that were attributed to insurgents in 2012.

Said UNAMA’s press release:

The report attributed 74 per cent of total civilian deaths and injuries in 2013 to Anti-Government Elements, 11 per cent to Pro-Government Forces (eight per cent to Afghan national security forces and three per cent to international forces) and ten per cent to ground engagements between Anti-Government Elements and Pro-Government Forces. Five per cent of civilian casualties were unattributed, resulting mostly from explosive remnants of war.

It’s important that Afghan government forces, which have taken over much of the fighting as the United States packs up to go home, were cited as being responsible for two-and-a-half times as many civilian casualties as the US/NATO command, according to UNAMA.

The Center for Civilians in Conflict, which has done critical work over the years trying to reduce civilian deaths in Iraq, Afghanistan and other conflict zones, noted the rise in casualties caused by the Afghan army and police—which, it seems, pay much less attention to civilians in the line of fire than the US/NATO forces have done. The Center said this trend is a sign that the Afghan forces need to do a lot more to change their method of operations as they take over from the departing Americans, and that “the Afghan government must urgently improve its efforts to minimize civilian harm caused by its forces.” Said a Center official:

When Afghan officials act to prevent civilian harm, they succeed, as shown by their efforts to detect and clear IEDs, which has saved civilian lives. Similar attention by Afghan officials to prevent civilian harm by their own forces is needed, starting with understanding why harm occurs in order to make changes to prevent future harm.

The Taliban, which callously disregards any concern about avoiding civilian deaths, slaughtered thousands via IED’s, suicide bombs, and other attacks. Says UNAMA:

Within civilian casualties from IEDs, UNAMA noted an 84 per cent rise in civilian deaths and injuries from radio-controlled IEDs and a 39 per cent decrease in civilian casualties from indiscriminate victim-activated pressure-plate IEDs. Anti-Government Elements continued to detonate IEDs in public areas used by civilians such as roads, markets, Government offices, bazaars, in and around schools, and bus stations. Suicide and complex attacks caused 1,236 civilian casualties (255 killed and 981 injured) in 73 incidents in 2013. While the number of attacks was similar to 2012, an 18 per cent decrease in civilian casualties from these attacks was noted. Combined, these IED tactics caused almost half of all civilian casualties in 2013.

On the “pro-government” side of the ledger, UNAMA reports:

Of all civilian casualties by Pro-Government Forces, 57 per cent were attributed to Afghan national security forces, 27 per cent to international military forces and 16 per cent to joint operations. Of the 57 per cent attributed to Afghan forces, the majority were from ground operations led by Afghan forces which resulted in 349 civilian casualties (88 civilian deaths and 261 injured), up 264 per cent from 2012.

You can access the whole UNAMA report at its website.

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