Afghanistan

Afghan Forces And Allies Kill More Civilians Than Insurgents, UN Says

It is the first time deaths caused by government forces and their allies have exceeded those of their enemies.

Afghan and international forces have killed more civilians in the war with the Taliban and other militants than the insurgents have in the first three months of this year, a UN report has said.

It is the first time deaths caused by government forces and their allies have exceeded those of their enemies.

The insurgents were still responsible for the majority of killed and wounded civilians combined, according to the report by the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA).

The report said 1,773 civilians were killed or wounded in the three months - a significant drop from the same period last year, when the figure was 2,305. In 2018, suicide bombings by insurgents were blamed for the high number of casualties.

Between 1 January and 31 March this year, 581 civilians were killed and 1,192 wounded, the report said.

Kunduz destroyed school
A school after an attack in Kunduz, Afghanistan (Picture: PA).

While insurgents caused a significant majority of the injuries, it was pro-government forces, including NATO, who killed the majority of civilians. They were responsible for 305 civilian deaths - nearly half of them in air strikes.

The remainder of the death toll incurred in the crossfire, such as during searches for militants, according to the report.

At the same time, insurgent attacks left 736 civilians wounded, compared with government and international forces which wounded 303, the report said.

The UN began compiling statistics on civilian casualties in 2009.

Most of the civilian deaths were the result of aerial attacks, most often carried out by international forces.

Although the report does not mention any NATO country specifically, US forces carry out air strikes when called to assist Afghan forces.

Afghan forces have been trained by NATO personnel (Picture: PA).

More than 50% of the civilians killed were women and children, said Richard Bennett, UNAMA's human rights director.

"These tactics have resulted in a high proportion of deaths of civilians," raising UN concerns, he said, referring to air strikes and search operations.

"Every death, every injury is a tragedy for civilians," said Mr Bennett.

"This remains an intense conflict and there are way too many civilians being killed and injured by all parties."

Earlier this year, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani warned his ground forces to take greater care while conducting search operations to protect civilian lives.

The resurgent Taliban, which now controls nearly half the country, have also urged their fighters to avoid civilian casualties in their near-daily attacks on government forces.

US military spokesman Colonel Dave Butler said a ceasefire would be the "best way to end the suffering of non-combatants".

Village near Ghazni in Afghanistan
A village near Ghazni in Afghanistan (Picture: US Army).

But the Taliban has refused to negotiate directly with Mr Ghani's government, even as they hold talks with a US peace envoy. Talks that were to start last week in Qatar with the Taliban and an array of prominent Afghans were scuttled after a falling-out between the two sides over who should attend.

Col Butler said NATO is also concerned over the civilian deaths: "We hold ourselves to the highest standards of accuracy and accountability.

"We strive for precision in all of our operations."

Squadron Leader Andy Rolston, a spokesman for the British contribution to NATO's Resolute Support in Afghanistan, added: "The NATO Resolute Support Mission is a non-combat mission. 

"We are here to train, advise and assist the Afghan National Security and Defence Forces with the ultimate aim of bringing about an Afghan-owned, enduring peace settlement.

"NATO is in complete support of the ongoing peace negotiations, currently being led by SRAR Khalilzad, which will hopefully pave the way for intra-afghan dialogue and a lasting peace. 

"Peace will bring an end to the violence that has affected Afghanistan for the last 40 years." 

It follows a trend reported in last year's UN annual report on civilian casualties, which showed a dramatic hike in civilian deaths caused by pro-government forces, including more than 1,000 in air strikes, the highest since the UN began keeping track 10 years ago.