As the war in Afghanistan enters its fourteenth year, an increasing number of civilians, especially women and children, are being killed or wounded, the United Nations said on Wednesday. A total of nearly 1,600 Afghan civilians died and over 3,300 were injured in the first half of 2015, according to a new report by the U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (Unama).
While the total number of casualties in the conflict was up 1 percent in the first half of 2015 -- compared to the same period last year -- the number of women and children killed or injured increased by 23 percent and 13 percent respectively, making it the sharpest rise in such casualties.
Danielle Bell, director of Unama’s human rights unit, said that the number of women and children casualties were much higher than those recorded during the same period in previous years. In the first six months of 2015, 164 women and 320 children were killed.
“The rise in the numbers of women and children killed and maimed from conflict-related violence is particularly disturbing,” Bell added, in a statement. “When the conflict kills or maims a mother, child, sister or brother, the repercussions for families and communities are devastating and long-lasting.”
According to the U.N. agency, 39 children were killed while handling unexploded ordnances left behind from both previous and ongoing conflicts. These explosives also injured 134 others in the first half of the year.
“The slight rise in civilian harm recorded in the first half of 2015 is primarily a result of increased civilian casualties from suicide and complex attacks and targeted killings -- the third and fourth leading causes of civilian casualties respectively,” the U.N. agency said, in the statement.
Although 70 percent of civilian injuries and deaths were caused by “anti-government elements,” such as the Taliban, the report also noted a 60 percent increase in civilian casualties caused by pro-government forces -- mainly during ground engagements with militants. A total of 16 percent of civilian casualties were caused by pro-government forces, of which international forces were responsible for 1 percent.
The report came after a period of aggressive and deadly attacks by the Taliban, both in their traditional strongholds such as Helmand province in southern Afghanistan as well as in Kunduz and Badakhshan provinces in the north, where Afghan security forces are struggling to push back Taliban militants who recently seized control of several villages. An unknown number of civilians are still believed to be trapped in the region.
“This report lays bare the heart-rending, prolonged suffering of civilians in Afghanistan, who continue to bear the brunt of the armed conflict and live in insecurity and uncertainty over whether a trip to a bank, a tailoring class, to a court room or a wedding party, may be their last,” the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said, in the statement.