More and more Afghan civilians are being deliberately targeted by militant attacks and suicide blasts, new UN figures published Thursday show, as the Taliban and the Islamic State group ramp up their assaults on urban areas.
The number of civilians killed or wounded across the country dipped by a welcome nine percent overall in 2017, the report by the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) showed, with 10,453 total civilian casualties including 3,438 deaths and 7,015 wounded.
But as the Taliban and the Islamic State group have come under more pressure they have increasingly carried out indiscriminate assaults in cities, with casualties from suicide bombings and attacks jumping by 17 percent.
Nearly 2,300 civilians were killed or wounded in suicide bombings and attacks in Afghanistan last year, more than any previous year of the conflict on record, the report said.
The figures come after US President Donald Trump said last August the American presence in Afghanistan would remain open-ended and Washington stepped up air strikes on rural militant strongholds.
“2017 recorded the highest number of civilian casualties from suicide and complex attacks in a single year in Afghanistan,” the report said, with 605 killed and 1,690 wounded from such incidents.
“Afghan civilians have been killed going about their daily lives — travelling on a bus, praying in a mosque, simply walking past a building that was targeted,” Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, UN high commissioner for human rights, was quoted as saying in the report.
“When we see civilians being deliberately targeted, you wonder how long that this (has) to go on,” Tadamichi Yamamoto, the UN’s special representative in Afghanistan, told a press conference in Kabul Thursday.
Militants claim to represent Afghan interests but are “killing people in the most appalling manner, creating terror and suffering”, he said.
The capital remained a top target, with 16 percent of all casualties during the year — a total of 1,831 people killed and wounded — occurring in Kabul alone.
Things have not improved so far in 2018, and Yamamoto warned the UN is concerned it will see “greater harm this year”.
Since January 20, militants have stormed a luxury hotel, bombed a crowded street and raided a military compound in Kabul, killing more than 130 people.
The majority of the victims in 2017 were killed or wounded by anti-government insurgents, according to the report.
However pro-government forces, including international troops, were responsible for 20 percent of the civilian casualties — a seven percent increase from 2016.
The casualties by pro-government forces were partly caused by the increase in aerial bombings by Afghan and foreign forces, the UNAMA said. The US is the only international force known to be carrying out air strikes in Afghanistan.
More than 28,000 civilians have been killed and over 52,000 wounded in Afghanistan since 2009 when officials started documenting the casualties, according to the UN.