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Record number of civilians killed and injured in 2016 Afghan airstrikes

Air attacks by Afghan and international forces caused a total of 590 civilian casualties in 2016 (250 deaths and 340 people injured), almost double that of 2015.

by Jack Serle

Part 5 - Worst year for civilian casualties on record

Last year was the worst since 2009 for civilian casualties, with 3,498 killed and 7,920 injured.

Children accounted for 3,512 of those casualties, a record number which the UN puts down to a 66% increase in deaths and injuries caused by “explosive remnants of war” – unexploded bombs and shells left littering the battlefield after the shooting stops.

Pro-government and international military forces were responsible for 24% of all civilian casualties, up 40% on 2015 despite “efforts… to mitigate civilian harm,” Unama reported.

The Taliban and other anti-government forces caused 61% of all civilian casualties “through attacks that disregarded civilian life, including the indiscriminate detonation of [improvised explosive devices] in civilian-populated areas.

The remaining 15% were non-attributable.

One particular US and Afghan ground raid last year demonstrates how strikes near civilians can prove catastrophic.

The aerial onslaught in northern Kunduz province has been singled out for specific attention in the Unama report.

US and Afghan special forces were conducting a night raid on November 2, going after Taliban leaders believed to be in the village of Boz-e-Qandahari in Kunduz province.

They came heavy fire from the Talban insurgents in the compound – three Afghan and two US soldiers were killed, 15 more were injured.

The troops called in air support and a sustained aerial bombardment that lasted most of the night hit the targeted housing compound as well as the next door compound.

Unama documented 32 people killed (including 20 children) and 36 injured (including 14 children) in the airstrikes. Nearly a third of the casualties belonged to the family of the Taliban commander that Unama’s sources said was the main target of the raid.

The Afghan government has paid money to the relatives of the dead and the injured. The US released a summary of its investigation into the strike in mid-January.

Unama says the US did not release enough information to determine whether the strike was legal under international law. The UN also said it was not clear if the investigation was independent.

The UN called for “an independent, clear and public accounting as to how the international military forces reached the conclusion that the operation involved no wrongdoing.

Unama also called on the US to release full details of the investigation, something the RS press office in Kabul told the Bureau in January it did not “have a date for its release” because the declassification process can take weeks or months.

This appalling conflict destroys lives and tears communities apart in every corner of Afghanistan,” said Tadamichi Yamamoto, UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Afghanistan. “Real protection of civilians requires commitment and demonstrated concrete actions to protect civilians from harm and for parties to the conflict to ensure accountability for indiscriminate and deliberate acts of civilian harm.

The rising number of civilians killed and injured reflects the continued strength of the Taliban, its willingness to carry out attacks with scant regard or civilian life, and the Afghan security forces struggles to contain the insurgency.

The US handed responsibility for fighting the Taliban over to Kabul’s army and police in December 2014. Since then the Taliban has been pushing the Afghans hard on the ground, inflicting considerable losses on security forces. The Afghans lost 6,785 soldiers and police dead with 11,777 more wounded between January and November last year.

The Afghan government is losing ground too. Kabul’s authority extends over 57% of the country’s 407 districts, as of November 2016. This is down nearly 15% from November 2015.

The US military judges the Afghan security forces to be most effective when taking the fight to the Taliban, moving away from static checkpoints and attacking the insurgents directly. However there has been a marked reluctance among local officials and military and police officers to do so.

The Afghan security forces also shrank by more than 30,000 in January this year when the US announced it was stopping pay to “ghost soldiers” – fictitious positions created so that officers could collect salaries for soldiers that did not exist in reality.

Corruption has severely impacted the Afghan security forces in their fight against the Taliban, alongside logistical issues. Supply lines have been stretched thin, with troops and police complaining of lacking ammunition and food.

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