Afghanistan: Record number of women and children killed or wounded

July 26, 2021

KABUL — More women and children were killed and wounded in Afghanistan in the first half of 2021 than in the first six months of any year since records began in 2009, a United Nations report revealed on Monday.

A particularly sharp rise in casualties occurred in May when international military forces began withdrawing from the country and fighting intensified following the Taliban offensive to take territory from government forces.

The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) reported in its Afghanistan Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict midyear update, that there were 1,659 civilians killed and 3,254 wounded; a 47 percent increase compared with the same period last year.

Spike in May

UNAMA said it was particularly concerned about the acute rise in the number of civilian casualties in the period from May 1, with almost as many recorded in the May-June period as in the entire preceding four months.

Women and children made up close to half of all these civilian casualties at 46 percent, according to the report. 32 percent were children, with 468 killed and 1,214 wounded. Fourteen percent of civilian casualties were women, with 219 killed and 508 wounded.

“I implore the Taliban and Afghan leaders to take heed of the conflict’s grim and chilling trajectory and its devastating impact on civilians,” said Deborah Lyons, the UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan.

“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,” Lyons added in a statement accompanying the report.


Much of the fighting during the months of May and June took place outside cities, in areas with comparatively low population levels.

UNAMA warned that without a significant de-escalation in violence, Afghanistan will likely witness the highest ever number of documented civilian casualties in a single year since it began keeping records in 2009.

The US-NATO withdrawal from Afghanistan is more than 95 percent complete and is due to finish by Aug. 31. Lyons called on Taliban and Afghan leaders to intensify their efforts at the negotiating table: “Stop the Afghan against Afghan fighting. Protect the Afghan people and give them hope for a better future,” she said.

‘Afghan fighting Afghan’

The UNAMA report noted that this is the first time that it has not attributed a single civilian casualty to international military forces. It stated that the conflict has now apparently become an exclusively civilian fight.

“Anti-government elements” were responsible for 64 percent of the total casualties, of which 39 percent were attributed to the Taliban, nearly nine percent to Daesh-Khorasan Province (ISIL-KP), and 16 percent to undetermined non-state actors.

Pro-Government Forces (PGFs) were responsible for 25 percent of civilian casualties: 23 percent by Afghan national security forces, and two percent by pro-Government armed groups or undetermined PGFs.

Eleven percent of all civilian casualties were attributed to “crossfire” during ground engagements where the exact party responsible could not be determined, and other incident types, including unattributable unexploded ordnance/explosive remnants of war.

Civilian casualties attributed to anti-Government elements increased by 63 percent compared with the same period in 2020, while civilian casualties attributed to PGFs increased by 30 percent.

IED use increases

The leading causes of civilian casualties in the first half of 2021 were the extensive use of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) by opposition forces, ground engagements between parties, targeted killings by non-state groups and airstrikes by the Afghan Air Force.

UNAMA said it was deeply concerned about these attacks which deliberately target civilians, including government workers, human rights defenders, media workers, religious elders, and humanitarian workers, and sectarian-motivated attacks.

Schoolgirls attacked

Children, it stated, were deliberately targeted on at least one occasion. The most shocking incident was the May 8 attack outside the Sayed ul-Shuhuda school in Kabul, which resulted in more than 300 civilian casualties, mostly schoolgirls, including 85 killed, for which no group has claimed responsibility.

UNAMA also recorded a resurgence of deliberate sectarian-motivated attacks against the Shia Muslim religious minority, most of whom also belong to the Hazara ethnic group, nearly all claimed by the extremist group Daesh (ISIL-KP).

The UN mission said it was also concerned about the increasing number of reports of killing, ill-treatment, persecution and discrimination in communities affected by the fighting and its aftermath. It warned that all parties to respect the human rights and dignity of people and prevent such abuses and violations. — UN News

July 26, 2021
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