‘Unprecedented’: UN says Afghan civilian deaths up by 47 percent

More women and children were killed and wounded in the first half of 2021 than in the same period of any year since UN began keeping count in 2009.

An afghan security official at a check point during heightened security measures for the Muslim festival of Eid al-Adha in Herat, Afghanistan [File: Jalil Rezayee/EPA]

Nearly 2,400 Afghan civilians have been killed or injured in May and June as fighting between the Taliban and Afghan security forces escalated, the highest number for those two months since records started in 2009, the United Nations said on Monday.

The UN’s Assistance Mission to Afghanistan (UNAMA) said in a report it had documented 5,183 civilian casualties between January and June, of which 1,659 were deaths. The number was up 47 percent from the same period last year.

The figures underscored the dire situation for Afghan civilians as intense fighting picked up in May and June after US President Joe Biden announced American troops would withdraw by September, bringing an end to 20 years of foreign military presence in the country.

“I implore the Taliban and Afghan leaders to take heed of the conflict’s grim and chilling trajectory and its devastating impact on civilians,” said Deborah Lyons, the UN secretary-general’s special representative for Afghanistan.

“The report provides a clear warning that unprecedented numbers of Afghan civilians will perish and be maimed this year if the increasing violence is not stemmed,” Lyons added in a UNAMA statement accompanying the report.

The UN warned that without “a significant de-escalation in violence” the country is on course in 2021 to record the highest ever number of civilian casualties in a single year.

“Of serious concern is the acute rise in the number of civilians killed and injured in the period from 1 May, with almost as many civilian casualties in the May-June period as recorded in the entire preceding four months,” UNAMA said in the statement.

Heavy clashes around the country have taken place in the past two months as the Taliban launched major offensives, taking rural districts, border crossings and surrounding provincial capitals, prompting Afghan and US forces to carry out air attacks to try and push back the group.

A survey conducted by the DPA news agency in mid-July revealed the Taliban now controls more than half of Afghanistan’s districts while pushing to advance towards several provincial capitals.

Negotiators have been meeting in Qatar’s capital Doha in recent weeks but diplomats have cautioned there has been little substantive progress since peace talks began in September.

Meanwhile, the US-NATO withdrawal is more than 95-percent complete and due to be finished by August 31.

Source: News Agencies