Last year marked the worst on record for Afghan civilian casualties since the United Nations began keeping track of the numbers in 2009. Some 10,500 civilians were killed or injured in fighting in Afghanistan last year, and more than 3,600 died, a 25 percent increase from 2013, according to a U.N. report released today.
These numbers stand in stark contrast to the optimism the U.S. government has conveyed about Afghanistan’s future. Just last week, testifying before Congress, Army Gen. John Campbell, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, touted an increase in life expectancy in the country, and Senator Tim Kaine, D-Va., spoke about the “powerful narrative about the success in Afghanistan that we can apply around the globe.”
The United States and its allies formally ended their combat operations in Afghanistan in December, putting more of the burden of fighting the Taliban on Afghan forces. The U.S. has spent $65 billion to train and equip the Afghan security forces, and Campbell said they would be capable of taking on the Taliban with less help from the U.S. “They’re ready, and it’s time,” he said.
But the U.N. found that as Afghan forces took command and the U.S. decreased air support, there have been larger, more deadly ground battles with “anti-government elements,” including the Taliban and other militant groups.
Civilian casualties have gone up for several reasons, according to the report. Fighting has become more dangerous, with mortars, rockets and grenades used “sometimes indiscriminately” in heavily populated areas.
Suicide bombings and attacks with improvised explosive devices have also increased, often specifically targeting civilians.
The U.N. blamed the majority of the casualties on anti-government forces, though it noted that in ground fighting with the government, it was often hard to determine who was responsible.
The report criticized the Afghan government for “a significant increase in human rights abuses” by both local police and increasingly influential militias allied with the government.
The true death toll in Afghanistan is unknown. The U.N. says that 17,700 people have been killed in Afghanistan since 2009; however, its estimates are conservative, counting only incidents verified by three sources.
Photo: Massoud Hossaini/AP