Child casualties of Afghan war rise steeply in 2013
KABUL // The number of children killed and wounded in Afghanistan’s war jumped by 34 per cent last year as the Taliban stepped up attacks across the country and continued to lay thousands of roadside bombs.
Overall civilian casualties were up by 14 per cent, reversing 2012’s downward trend and making 2013 one of the deadliest years of the 12-year war for civilians, the UN Assistance Mission for Afghanistan said in a report yesterday.
The gradual withdrawal of foreign troops has left Afghan government forces more vulnerable to attack by insurgents, and the resulting battles helped account for last year’s rise in casualties, according to the report.
“The new trend in 2013 of increased civilian casualties from ground engagements, including the alarming increase in women and children casualties, reflected the changing dynamics of the conflict over the year,” the report said.
It recorded 962 battles between Afghan forces and the Taliban in which civilians were harmed last year – an average rate of nearly 20 a week – and said civilian casualties caused by such fighting rose by 43 per cent over the previous year.
In terms of deaths and injuries, 2013 was the worst year of the war for Afghan women and children, with most of the casualties caused by either stepping on or driving over roadside bombs or getting caught in fighting.
The UN report said 561 children were killed and 1,195 were wounded in 2013.
Also last year, 235 women died and 511 were wounded, a rise of 36 per cent in combined casualties.
“It is the awful reality that most women and children were killed and injured in their daily lives – at home, on their way to school, working in the fields or travelling to a social event,” said Georgette Gagnon, director of human rights for the UN mission.
Yesterday, another child was killed when a roadside bomb detonated near a secondary school in Jalalabad. Eight other people were wounded.
The report blamed insurgents for 74 per cent of the civilian casualties. Afghan police and army were responsible for 8 per cent of the casualties and international coalition forces for 3 per cent, while 10 per cent could not be blamed solely on either side and the responsibility for the remaining 5 per cent was unknown.
Bombs detonated by insurgents in public areas such as markets, roads and government buildings remained the single biggest killer, accounting for 34 per cent of the total civilian toll, while crossfire in battle accounted for 27 percent.
Suicide attacks accounted for 15 per cent of overall casualties, targeted attacks made up 14 per cent and pro-government air raids were responsible for 2 per cent. Unexploded ordnance detonations and “other” accounted for 4 per cent each.
While they make up only a fraction of the total casualties, air strikes causing civilian deaths or injuries are a major source of tension between President Hamid Karzai and the United States.
The UN report said there were 54 aerial operations that resulted in civilian casualties in 2013. While this was a 10 per cent drop from the number of such cases in 2012, women and children accounted for nearly half of casualties.
Of the 54 cases, 19 were by unmanned aerial vehicles. The number of civilian victims from these so-called drone strikes more than tripled from 2012.
Insurgent attacks against Muslim leaders and mosques tripled to 27 during 2013, causing the deaths of 18 people.
The conflict has claimed the lives of 14,064 civilians in the past five years. The 8,615 deaths and injuries last year was the highest number of combined casualties since the UN began documenting them in 2009 after a spike in violence.
The trend highlights the challenges faced by local forces as their better-equipped foreign partners leave and comes as Washington and Kabul squabble over a proposed security deal that would allow some US forces to stay on beyond 2014.
Washington is proposing that 5,000 to 10,000 US soldiers are deployed from 2015 to train and assist Afghan security forces in their battle against the Taliban.
But Mr Karzai has said that before he signs the so-called Bilateral Security Agreement, the US must stop military operations and bring the Taliban to the negotiating table.
Mr Karzai, who has ruled the country since the fall of the Taliban in 2001, has suggested that a decision on whether to sign the agreement would fall to his successor, to be chosen in elections due on April 5.
The Taliban have threatened to target the campaign, and the Afghan police and army face a major challenge with little support from the dwindling Nato force.
On February 1, a day before campaigning began, gunmen shot dead two election workers for the presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah.
The UN recorded 25 attacks on election workers and facilities last year, resulting in four civilian deaths.
* Associated Press with additional reporting by Agence France-Presse and Reuters
Updated: February 9, 2014 04:00 AM