TWN Info Service on UN Sustainable Development (Feb18/10)
19 February 2018
Third World Network

Over 10,000 civilian casualties in Afghan conflict last year
Published in SUNS #8623 dated 16 February 2018

Geneva, 15 Feb (Kanaga Raja) - Civilians continued to suffer the effects of armed conflict in Afghanistan throughout 2017, with 10,453 civilian casualties (3,438 deaths and 7,015 injured) being documented between 1 January and 31 December of that year, according to a new United Nations report.

Released by the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) and the UN Human Rights Office on 15 February, the report covers the period from 1 January to 31 December 2017.

According to the report, the civilian casualties documented in 2017 represented an overall decrease of nine per cent compared to 2016 and the first year-on-year decrease recorded by UNAMA since 2012.

"While the number of civilian deaths reduced by two per cent from 2016 and the number of civilians injured decreased by 11 per cent, the overall continuation of high numbers of civilian casualties underscores the enormous human cost of the ongoing armed conflict," it said.

Between 1 January 2009 and 31 December 2017, the armed conflict in Afghanistan claimed the lives of 28,291 civilians and injured 52,366 others.

"The chilling statistics in this report provide credible data about the war's impact, but the figures alone cannot capture the appalling human suffering inflicted on ordinary people, especially women and children," said Tadamichi Yamamoto, the United Nations Secretary-General's Special Representative for Afghanistan and head of UNAMA.

"I am particularly appalled by the continued indiscriminate and unlawful use of IEDs such as suicide bombs and pressure-plate devices in civilian populated areas. This is shameful," he said, in a UN news release.

"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. The people of Afghanistan, year after year, continue to live in insecurity and fear, while those responsible for ending lives and blighting lives escape punishment," said UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein.

"Such attacks are prohibited under international humanitarian law and are likely, in most cases, to constitute war crimes. The perpetrators must be identified and held accountable," he added.

According to the UN report, the nine per cent decrease in civilian casualties in 2017 mainly resulted from less harm to civilians caused by ground fighting compared to 2016, while civilian casualties from suicide and complex attacks continued to rise.

Such attacks caused 22 per cent of all civilian casualties in Afghanistan in 2017, with 16 per cent of all civilian casualties during the year occurring from such attacks in Kabul city.

Civilian casualties from suicide and complex attacks countrywide increased by 17 per cent compared to 2016.

As a result, 2017 recorded the highest number of civilian casualties from suicide and complex attacks in a single year in Afghanistan since the mission began systematic documentation of civilian casualties in 2009, said the report.

The combined use of suicide improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and non-suicide IEDs by Anti-Government Elements accounted for most civilian casualties in 2017 - particularly indiscriminate and unlawful use of IEDs such as suicide bombs and pressure-plate devices in civilian populated areas.

Combined IED tactics caused 4,151 civilian casualties (1,229 deaths and 2,922 injured), comprising 40 per cent of all civilian casualties in 2017.

The majority of civilian casualties caused by these devices occurred in the context of suicide and complex attacks, followed by pressure-plate IED detonations.

UNAMA said that of particular concern was the significant increase recorded in sectarian-motivated suicide and complex attacks, as well as the deadliest single suicide attack from a large suicide vehicle-borne IED, on 31 May, in Kabul city centre.

After combined IED tactics, ground engagements caused the second highest number of civilian casualties in 2017.

Following record levels of civilian casualties from ground engagements in 2016, UNAMA documented a 19 per cent decrease in civilian casualties from ground fighting between Anti-Government Elements and Pro- Government Forces in 2017. It recorded 3,484 civilian casualties (823 deaths and 2,661 injured).

The decrease in civilian casualties from ground engagements resulted from a reduction in the number of civilians killed and injured from the use of indirect fire - mainly from mortars - by both Pro-Government Forces and Anti- Government Elements.

UNAMA also documented what it said was a disturbing increase in attacks against places of worship, religious leaders and worshippers, recording 499 civilian casualties (202 deaths and 297 injured) during 38 attacks in 2017.

This amounted to three times as many attacks as in 2016, double the number of deaths and 30 per cent more in total civilian casualties.

The mission was also deeply concerned by the significant increase in sectarian-motivated attacks targeting Shi'a Muslim congregations, mostly perpetrated by Daesh/ISIL-KP (Islamic State Khorasan Province).


UNAMA noted that the armed conflict in Afghanistan continued to kill and maim women at levels similar to 2016.

In 2017, UNAMA documented 1,224 women casualties (359 deaths and 865 injured), an increase of less than one per cent, reversing the trend of decrease in women casualties observed in 2016.

Women deaths increased by five per cent compared to 2016, and women again comprised 12 per cent of conflict- related civilian casualties in 2017.

Anti-Government Elements caused an increasing number of women casualties, with 629 casualties (198 deaths and 431 injured), a 13 per cent increase compared to 2016, causing 51 per cent of total women casualties in 2017.

Pro-Government forces caused 390 women casualties (105 deaths and 285 injured), a 19 per cent decrease from 2016, accounting for 32 per cent of total women casualties in 2017.

Un-attributed crossfire between Pro-Government Forces and Anti-Government Elements during ground fighting caused 184 women casualties (50 deaths and 134 injured), an 18 per cent increase from 2016, comprising 15 per cent of total women casualties.

Ground engagements remained the leading cause of women casualties, though UNAMA recorded a decrease of 11 per cent in such casualties from 2016, mostly due to a 34 per cent decrease in women casualties attributed to Pro-Government Forces during ground engagements.

UNAMA also recorded a reduction in women killed and injured by non-suicide IEDs (including pressure-plate IEDs).

"Suicide and complex attacks in civilian populated areas increasingly killed and maimed women, with more than double the number of women casualties resulting from such incidents in 2017," said UNAMA.

Women casualties from aerial operations also increased, with airstrikes causing 22 per cent more women casualties in 2017 than in 2016.

Women increasingly suffered due to the rise in suicide and complex attacks targeting places of worship, some of which included deliberate attempts to target female sections of mosques.

For example, on 25 August, gunmen opened fire on worshippers in a mosque in Kabul city, killing 13 women and a girl, and injuring 22 women and a girl praying on the second floor of the mosque. The attack caused 100 civilian casualties (35 deaths and 65 injured).

UNAMA documented 58 women casualties (36 deaths and 22 injured) from incidents of targeted and deliberate killings, including 34 casualties (27 deaths and seven injured) resulting from attacks deliberately targeting women.

Anti-Government Elements intentionally targeted women for reasons such as accusations of providing support to the Government, committing "immoral acts", and serving as police officers.


According to UNAMA, throughout 2017, conflict-related violence continued to kill and injure children.

Whilst noting an overall decrease in the number of victims, children casualties accounted for 30 per cent of all civilian casualties.

UNAMA recorded 3,179 child casualties (861 deaths and 2,318 injured), an overall 10 per cent decrease compared to 2016, with decreases in both fatalities and injuries.

As in 2016, boys comprised 71 per cent of the casualties among children, and girls made up 29 per cent.

UNAMA attributed 44 per cent of child casualties to Anti-Government Elements, who were responsible for 1,384 child casualties (330 deaths and 1,054 injured), a five per cent decrease compared to 2016.

Pro-Government Forces caused 913 child casualties (313 deaths and 600 injured), and were responsible for 29 per cent of all child casualties, marking a 19 per cent decrease from the previous year.

Despite a decrease of 19 per cent compared with 2016, the leading cause of child casualties remained ground engagements between Anti-Government Elements and Pro-Government Forces, accounting for nearly half of the cases.

Of the casualties caused by ground engagements, those due to the use of indirect weapons - such as mortars, rockets and grenades - decreased by 30 per cent, with 887 casualties (194 deaths and 693 injured).

UNAMA documented 534 child casualties (126 deaths and 408 injured) caused by shooting during ground engagements, an increase of 32 per cent compared to 2016.

Of concern was that aerial operations caused substantially more deaths and injuries among children in 2017, with casualties from airstrikes increasing by 33 per cent compared to 2016.

UNAMA documented 266 child casualties (114 deaths and 152 injured) generated by such incidents in 2017.

In one case, on 30 August, an airstrike by international military forces targeting Taliban fighters who were firing heavy weaponry, killed 10 children and injured six others in Pul-e-Alam District, Logar Province.

Equally concerning was that child casualties in the context of search operations conducted by Pro-Government Forces, including the Afghan Local Police, the Afghan National Army, the National Directorate of Security, and joint operations between the Afghan national security forces and international military, more than tripled compared to 2016, causing 43 child casualties (29 deaths and 14 injured).

UNAMA recorded 207 child casualties (31 deaths and 176 injured) caused by suicide and complex attacks, an increase of 34 per cent compared to 2016.

For example, on 1 August, in Herat city, Anti-Government Elements killed five children and injured four others during a suicide attack targeting a mosque.

Non-suicide IEDs caused two per cent fewer child casualties compared to 2016, with 545 casualties (160 deaths and 385 injured) documented by UNAMA in 2017.

Child casualties from remote-detonated IEDs decreased, while child casualties from pressure-plate IEDs increased.

UNAMA also documented 18 incidents involving the abduction of 42 children (40 boys and two girls) by Anti Government-Elements.

Throughout 2017, UNAMA continued to receive reports of recruitment and use of children by Anti-Government Elements and the Afghan security forces.

From 1 January to 31 December 2017, it verified the recruitment and use of 83 boys, including 20 in western region, 16 in north eastern region, 14 in southern region, nine in both central highland and south eastern regions, eight in eastern region, five in northern region and two in central region.

Children are inter alia recruited to function as bodyguards, assist in intelligence gathering, plant IEDs, carry out suicide attacks and participate in hostilities.


In 2017, UNAMA attributed the majority of civilian casualties - 65 per cent - to Anti-Government Elements, with 42 per cent attributed to Taliban, 10 per cent to Daesh/Islamic State Khorasan Province (ISIL-KP), and 13 per cent to undetermined and other Anti-Government Elements.

Pro-Government Forces caused 20 per cent of civilian casualties in 2017 (16 per cent by Afghan national security forces, two per cent by international military forces, one per cent each by pro-Government armed groups and undetermined pro-Government forces).

In 2017, Anti-Government Elements caused 6,768 civilian casualties (2,303 deaths and 4,465 injured), a three per cent decrease compared to 2016.

"This decrease is mainly explained by fewer civilian casualties caused by Anti-Government Elements using indirect fire such as mortars, rockets and grenades during ground engagements, and fewer civilian injuries from targeted killings and non-suicide IEDs, particularly remote-detonated IEDs", said UNAMA.

UNAMA documented a rise in civilian casualties caused by Anti-Government Elements (particularly Daesh/ ISIL-KP) during suicide and complex attacks as well as an increase in incidental civilian deaths and injuries from bullets fired by Anti-Government Elements during ground engagements, particularly during ground attacks against police check posts.

UNAMA attributed 4,385 civilian (1,574 deaths and 2,811 injured) to Taliban, a 12 per cent decrease from 2016, comprising 42 per cent of all civilian casualties in 2017.

Of these incidents, the group publically claimed responsibility for 179 attacks that resulted in 1,166 civilian casualties (345 deaths and 821 injured).

UNAMA attributed 1,000 civilian casualties (399 deaths and 601 injured) - 10 per cent of total civilian casualties - to Daesh/ISIL-KP, an 11 per cent increase from 2016.

The group claimed responsibility for 24 attacks (mostly targeting civilians) that caused 823 civilian casualties (300 deaths and 523 injured).

UNAMA attributed a further 1,389 civilian casualties (330 deaths and 1,059 injured) to unidentified and other Anti-Government Elements.

UNAMA attributed 2,108 civilian casualties (745 deaths and 1,363 injured) to Pro-Government Forces in 2017, a 23 per cent decrease compared to last year.

"This decrease was mainly linked to the significant reduction in civilian casualties from indirect weapons such as mortars during ground engagements."

As in 2016, said UNAMA, more than half of the civilian casualties caused by Pro-Government Forces in 2017 occurred incidentally during ground fighting with Anti-Government Elements.

Following ground engagements, aerial operations remained the second leading cause of civilian casualties attributed to Pro-Government Forces.

UNAMA documented 631 civilian casualties (295 deaths and 336 injured) from aerial operations, a seven per cent increase compared to 2016, including an 18 per cent increase in deaths.

The Afghan Air Force caused 309 civilian casualties (99 deaths and 210 injured), while airstrikes by the international military forces caused 246 civilian casualties (154 deaths and 92 injured).

UNAMA also documented 76 civilian casualties (42 deaths and 34 injured) from airstrikes carried out by un-determined Pro-Government Forces.

In 2017, UNAMA documented 639 civilian casualties (164 deaths and 475 injured) as a result of explosive remnants of war, marking a 12 per decrease from 2016 and the first year-on-year decrease recorded since UNAMA began documenting civilian casualties in 2009.

"The decrease may be attributed to correlated reductions in civilian casualties from the use of indirect fire from weapons such as mortars, rockets, and grenades in civilian populated areas, particularly by Pro-Government Forces," it said.

Other factors such as the clearance of explosive remnants of war from the battlefield, together with ongoing education programs and the marking of suspect hazard areas also contributed to the 12 per cent decrease.

Additionally, changes in conflict dynamics related to ground fighting likely played an important role in reducing civilian casualties from explosive remnants of war.

Despite the decrease compared to 2016, levels of civilian casualties from unexploded ordnance remained far above figures recorded in 2015 and before.

Explosive remnants of war continued to disproportionately impact children, who comprised 81 per cent of all casualties in 2017.

UNAMA documented 518 child casualties (142 deaths and 376 injured) from explosive remnants of war, including 440 boys.

Children who survived encounters with explosive remnants of war lost legs, arms and eye-sight, and suffered other serious injuries and psychological trauma, limiting their prospects for a normal life.

In many instances, those children killed and injured by explosive remnants of war had come across the devices while searching for scrap metal to sell and mostly picked up, played with, and/or threw stones at the devices, or brought the device home.

UNAMA also said that it is concerned at the significant increase in civilian casualties caused by shelling from Pakistan into Afghanistan, with 29 incidents recorded in 2017, that caused 71 civilian casualties (23 deaths and 48 injured) - over triple of incidents and more than four times the number of civilian casualties compared to 2016.

Shelling from Pakistan into Afghanistan impacted civilians mainly in the Nangarhar and Kunar provinces, accounting for 42 civilian casualties (16 deaths and 26 injured) due to 23 incidents.

It also caused the displacement of over 650 families and the destruction of more than 25 homes as well as livestock and other property, said UNAMA.