Civilian death toll in 16-year Afghanistan war is staggering

The number of civilian deaths in the Afghan war has reached a record high, continuing an almost unbroken trend of nearly a decade of rising casualties.

The number of deaths of women and children grew especially fast, primarily due to the Taliban’s use of homemade bombs, which caused 40% of civilian casualties in the first six months of 2017, according to UN figures released on July 17.

Child casualties increased by 9% to 436, compared with the same period last year, and 1,141 children were wounded. Female deaths rose by 23%, with 174 women killed and 462 injured.

US and Afghan airstrikes also contributed to the surge in civilian victims, with a 43% increase in casualties from the air, the figures showed.

Airmen from the 966th Air Expeditionary Squadron Explosive Ordnance Disposal flight set off a controlled detonation at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan. USAF photo by Sgt. Sara Csurilla.

Airmen from the 966th Air Expeditionary Squadron Explosive Ordnance Disposal flight set off a controlled detonation at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan. (U.S. Air Force photo by Sgt. Sara Csurilla.)

Tadamichi Yamamoto, the head of the UN’s Afghanistan mission, said: “The human cost of this ugly war in Afghanistan – loss of life, destruction, and immense suffering – is far too high.

“The continued use of indiscriminate, disproportionate, and illegal improvised explosive devices [IEDs] is particularly appalling and must immediately stop.”

The UN attributes about two-thirds of casualties to the Taliban and other anti-government groups such as Islamic State.

The worst attack of the war on civilians occurred in the Afghan capital, Kabul, on May 31, when a truck bomb killed at least 150 people, amounting to nearly one-quarter of the 596 civilian deaths from IEDs in 2017.

A US military cargo truck bypasses a charred vehicle destroyed by a roadside bomb. Army photo by Spc. Elisebet Freeburg.

A US military cargo truck bypasses a charred vehicle destroyed by a roadside bomb. (Army photo by Spc. Elisebet Freeburg.)

In the countryside, bombs carpeting fields or left in abandoned houses have contributed to a steady, slow-grinding toll, with 1,483 civilians injured and many suffering amputations.

Kamel Danesh, 19, a student and avid cricketer, was helping a friend clear a house in Helmand a month ago when he stepped on a mine left by the Taliban.

“I didn’t hear the blast. I was just knocked over. My mouth filled with dust. I tried to stand up but couldn’t,” Danesh said. “I looked down and my leg was cut off at the bone. My hand was cut off.”

A rickshaw transported him from the suburbs of the provincial capital to Emergency, an Italian-run trauma centre, where medics saved his life.

Marines from Marine Wing Support Squadron 274 destroy an improvised explosive device cache. USMC photo by Sgt. Mark Fayloga

Marines from Marine Wing Support Squadron 274 destroy an improvised explosive device cache. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Mark Fayloga)

“It was so painful. I prayed to God to take me,” Danesh said. The provincial cricket association named the Ramadan tournament after him, but he will never play again.

In June, the US conducted 389 aerial attacks in Afghanistan, putting this year on a par with 2013, when there were nearly 50,000 US soldiers in the country.

Of the 232 civilian casualties from 48 aerial operations, 114 were caused by Afghans and 85 by Americans. In one especially deadly operation, the US killed 26 civilians in airstrikes in Sangin district in Helmand.

With peace talks elusive, the war is expected to intensify and prolong the violence that has engulfed Afghanistan for four decades.

Danesh lost his leg to a conflict that began when he was two. As a child, his father and grandfather used to tell him war stories, but “now it is the young people who are sacrificing”, he said.

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