Afghan Civilians Increasingly Targeted by Militants [UN Report]

civilians casualties in Afghanistan
Nearly 2,300 civilians were killed or wounded in suicide bombings and attacks in Afghanistan in 2017, more than any previous year of the conflict on record, the UN says. Photo: AFP

Ordinary Afghans are increasingly in the crosshairs of militants, a U.N. report showed on Thursday, with the number of civilians killed or wounded in attacks deliberately targeting them more than doubling in the first quarter.

The total number of civilian casualties in the January-March period reached 2,258 — almost unchanged from the same period in the past two years, the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan said. That included 763 deaths and 1,495 injuries, marking a bloody start to the year.

But the number of civilian casualties from attacks by the Taliban, the Islamic State group and other militants “deliberately targeting” ordinary Afghans more than doubled — accounting for 39 percent of all casualties.

Suicide blasts and militant attacks were the leading cause of civilian casualties at 751, more than double from the same period last year, the report showed, as militants ramp up indiscriminate assaults in urban areas. If the trend were to continue for the rest of the year, the figure could top last year’s record-setting 2,295 casualties in suicide bombings and attacks.

Ground engagements between militants and security forces accounted for 30 percent of civilian casualties in the January to March period. Anti-government elements also continued to direct attacks against the minority Shiite community, with 154 of its members killed or wounded, “nearly all from suicide and complex attacks” claimed by ISIS, the report said.

Militant groups were responsible — through their attacks or fighting with security forces — for most of the civilian casualties, causing 1,500 deaths or injuries — 67 percent of the total and six percent more than last year. Half of the casualties were attributed to the Taliban, Afghanistan’s largest militant group, and 11 percent to ISIS.

The capital Kabul was a major target in the first quarter as a traditional easing in fighting during the freezing winter months did not happen. Among the major attacks, militants stormed a luxury hotel, bombed a crowded street and blew up revellers at a Persian New Year celebration, killing more than 150 people, mostly civilians.

The latest figures come as U.S. and Afghan forces intensify ground and air offensives ahead of the traditional spring fighting season, which some expect to be particularly bloody this year.

As the Taliban faces growing pressure to take up President Ashraf Ghani‘s offer of peace talks, the U.N. called on “all parties” to do more to protect civilians.

“Afghan civilians continue to suffer, caught in the conflict, in ways that are preventable; this must stop now,” said Ingrid Hayden, the U.N. secretary-general’s deputy special representative for Afghanistan.