The number of civilians killed or wounded in Afghanistan rose by 23 percent in the first six months of 2013, according to a United Nations report on civilian casualties, reversing a decline last year and signaling the challenge Afghan forces face as they take over all combat duties from American soldiers.
The Taliban continued to cause the majority of casualties, stepping up violence through the indiscriminate use of roadside bombs and suicide attacks in major population centers, according to the report, released Wednesday by the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan.
With the American pullout planned for the end of 2014, responsibility for the fighting is increasingly falling to the Afghans. Aware of the security transition in place, the insurgency has stepped up its efforts to strike the Afghan forces, hoping to undermine confidence in government institutions. That effort has included a focus on complex and daring attacks in major cities like the capital, Kabul, where Afghans often find themselves in harm’s way.
In many areas where the international forces have shut down bases or otherwise reduced their footprint, the fight for control between the Afghan forces and the insurgency has intensified — with women and children often bearing the brunt of the violence. Fighting between the two groups over such areas of the country was the second biggest cause of civilian deaths and injuries.
From January to June, the number of civilians killed in war-related violence rose to 1,319 from 1,158 a year earlier. In the same period, 2,533 civilians were injured, compared with 1,976 in 2012.
Throughout the first half of the year, women and children were being killed by roadside bombs almost daily, particularly in south Afghanistan, where insurgents have sown homemade bombs through much of the terrain. The United Nations report found that the devices accounted for more than a third of the civilian casualties in the first half of 2013, helping drive a 30 percent increase in injuries and deaths of children.
Meanwhile, the intensifying ground battles helped propel a 60 percent jump in deaths and injuries among women.
The Taliban have been under pressure in recent years to reduce civilian casualties. The group’s leaders have issued edicts demanding more caution from fighters and have set up a committee to prevent the loss of innocent lives. Still, the data from the United Nations reflects a trend in the opposite direction.
“Unfortunately, the reality has not been borne out, and we have not seen a great reduction in civilian casualties by them,” said Georgette Gagnon, the United Nations director of human rights for Afghanistan.
The Taliban rejected the report as little more than a tool of the American strategy. In addition to denouncing the coalition’s responsibility for innocent Afghan deaths, the group took issue with what it viewed as the United Nations’s use of the word civilian to describe government employees, like judicial workers.
“Calling them civilians is Unama’s own judgment,” the statement said, referring to the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan. “We don’t consider people civilians who are directly involved in our country’s occupation.” In the past several months, the Taliban have condemned attacks that killed civilians, blaming Afghan and coalition troops for using excessive force. In May, the group denied responsibility for — and condemned — an attack in Jalalabad on the International Committee of the Red Cross, which it sees as impartial.