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U.N. report: Civilian casualties in Afghanistan at record level this year

By
Kyle Barnett
Civilians prepare to cross into Afghanistan through the Pakistani-Afghan border following the reopening of the border one day after the Taliban took control of the Afghan side, at Chaman, Pakistan, on July 15. Photo by Akhter Gulfam/EPA-EFE
Civilians prepare to cross into Afghanistan through the Pakistani-Afghan border following the reopening of the border one day after the Taliban took control of the Afghan side, at Chaman, Pakistan, on July 15. Photo by Akhter Gulfam/EPA-EFE

July 26 (UPI) -- More women and children have been killed or injured in Afghanistan over the first six months of 2021 than in the first half of any year since 2009, when record-keeping began, the United Nations mission in Afghanistan said in a report Monday.

There was a 47% increase in civilians deaths and injuries between January and July, compared to the same period in 2020, the U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) report says.

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"The report provides a clear warning that unprecedented numbers of Afghan civilians will perish and be maimed this year if the increasing violence is not stemmed," Deborah Lyons, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres' Special Representative for Afghanistan, said in a statement.

"I implore the Taliban and Afghan leaders to take heed of the conflict's grim and chilling trajectory and its devastating impact on civilians."

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The Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict Midyear Update 2021 report puts the number of civilians killed or injured in Afghanistan this year at nearly 5,200. Of that figure, almost 1,700 were killed.

The number of deaths and casualties over the first six months is the highest since UNAMA started keeping records in 2009.

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"UNAMA documented a nearly threefold increase in civilian casualties resulting from the use of non-suicide improvised explosive devices by anti-government elements," the report reads.

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The Taliban have been advancing in Afghanistan since the United States began withdrawing troops in recent months. U.S. forces entered into the conflict in 2001 to remove Taliban fighters from the country after the Sept. 11 attacks.

The assistance mission said the rising use of roadside bombs is partly to blame for the number of civilian deaths and injuries.

"UNAMA remains deeply concerned about the continuation of AGE attacks deliberately targeting civilians, particularly through the use of IEDs and shootings, including targeting of civilian government workers, human rights defenders, media workers, religious elders, and humanitarian workers, and sectarian-motivated attacks," UNAMA said in a statement.

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Taliban forces were responsible for 39% of deaths and casualties, the report says, more than any other group. Rebel fighters altogether were responsible for 64%, pro-government forces 25% and Afghan national forces 23%.

"The pursuit of a military solution will only increase the suffering of the Afghan people," Lyons added.

"Intensify your efforts at the negotiating table, stop the Afghan against Afghan fighting. Protect the Afghan people and give them hope for a better future."

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As of early July, Pentagon officials said 95% of the U.S. military presence had withdrawn from Afghanistan. At the time, President Joe Biden said, "It's up to the Afghans to make decisions about the future of their country."

Since then, the Taliban has aggressively pushed forward and now occupies around half of its districts.

In mid July, Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters the Taliban has not won yet.

"There clearly is a narrative out there that the Taliban are winning," Milley said. "In fact, they are propagating an inevitable victory on their behalf, they're dominating a lot of the airwaves."

Afghan and Taliban leaders met for peace talks last week.

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