Kabul — A just-published United Nations report maintains that civilian casualties in Afghanistan rose last year as attacks by Taliban insurgents increased and women and children were caught in the crossfire. According to the U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), there has been a significant spike in violence against ordinary Afghans. This has exacerbated concern among both local civil society groups and international organizations that security could worsen as the bulk of international forces leave the country in 2014.
The UNAMA report claims that 2,959 civilians were killed in Afghanistan in 2013 and 5,656 were injured. This implies a seven percent jump in the number of fatalities over 2012. At the same time, the figure was slightly less than the 3,021 civilians killed in 2011, a record number ever since the UN began compiling casualties in 2007. The report concluded that 74% of civilian deaths and injuries were caused by “anti-government elements,” including the Taliban and Islamist militant groups such as the Haqqani network and Hezb-e-Islami.
The current figures, however, still remain in sharp contrast to the far higher civilian casualties when the Soviets occupied Afghanistan during the 1980s as well as the brutal civil war phase of the 1990s. According to the UNAMA, women and children have proven particularly vulnerable, with casualties up by roughly a third as clashes between the Afghan army and insurgents have intensified in certain parts of the country. It also notes that weapon of choice among the insurgents remains IEDs, roadside bombs and other explosive devices, which inflicted 34% of all civilian casualties, among them 192 killed children. According the Washington Post, the Taliban dismissed the report claiming that it was “drafted by the US embassy under the name of the United Nations.”
The UNAMA report, which has been issued annually since 2007 (various other groups have sought to compile figures based primarily on press reports since 2001) underlines growing uncertainty about Afghanistan’s future as the country moves toward new presidential elections in April followed by confusion as to the nature of the West’s military role in the post-2014 period. For some observers, there is clearly no end to the war, which has wracked Afghanistan since fighting first broke out in the summer 1978.