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Afghan civilian casualties hit all-time high

Nearly 15 years after the American invasion, more civilians than ever are being killed and injured in the conflict involving foreign troops, the Afghan government, the Taliban, and now Islamic State militants.

by Elian Peltier
Jul 26 2016, 9:44pm

Hombres afganos llevan el ataúd de una víctima en Kabul, Afganistán, el 24 de julio de 2016. (Imagen por Omar Sobhani/Reuters)

Saturday's deadly attack on a demonstration in Kabul that killed at least 80 civilians has been followed by another grim report from Afghanistan: a record high number of civilians were killed and injured in the country between January and June.

The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) reported this week that 5,166 Afghan civilians were killed and wounded in the first six months of this year, the highest toll since the UN began counting in 2009. Overall, there were 1,601 civilians killed and 3,565 wounded.

The number of civilian deaths in 2016 track closely to the number killed in the first half of 2015, with 1,615 civilian deaths a year ago, but the number of injured civilians reached a record high that includes 1,121 children.

Child casualties amount for almost one third of the civilian casualties in Afghanistan, another record high that UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein described as "alarming and shameful."

The head of UNAMA, Tadamichi Yamamoto, called on both parties to increase the protection of civilians.

"Every single casualty documented in this report — people killed while praying, working, studying, fetching water, recovering in hospitals — every civilian casualty represents a failure of commitment," Yamamoto said.

Related: Obama to keep 8,400 troops in Afghanistan after he leaves office

Noorjahan Akbar, an Afghan human rights activist living between Washington DC and Kabul, said one of the main reasons for the increased violence was the spread of fighting across the country's territory, with "the government pushing the Taliban from one area to another."

While the Taliban was responsible for 60 percent of the casualties, injuries and deaths attributed to pro-Government forces also increased by 47 percent, amounting to 23 percent of total of casualties so far this year.

"With all the years of support and training, that there has been a shocking 47 percent increase in civilian casualties by pro-government forces is shocking," Human Rights Watch's Senior researcher on Afghanistan Patricia Gossman told VICE News. The Afghan government and its NATO allies need to ask themselves why this is happening."

Ground engagements caused the highest number of civilian casualties, followed by complex and suicide attacks and improved explosive devices, the report said.

"This specific attack, of this weekend," Akbar told VICE News, referring to the ISIS terrorist attack onSaturday in Kabul, "and the ongoing casualties, makes people feel like they're pawns, or tools, in the fight against terrorism, and that our country is the battlefield for it."

"If everyone, the Taliban, ISIS, pro-government forces, airstrikes from foreign powers, kill unarmed people, then the message is 'we don't matter.'"

The few foreign troops left in Afghanistan have been helping the Afghan government to fight against Islamic State militants and the Taliban. The Afghan government officially halted its efforts to start peace talks with Taliban leaders in April after repeated attacks on government troops and officials.

Almost 23,000 civilians have been killed in Afghanistan since 2009, and 41,000 injured, according to UN figures.

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