Editor in Chief: Moh. Reza Huwaida Thursday, September 24th, 2020

Afghans Sustained Heavy Casualties Last Year

Civilian casualties continued unabated despite the ongoing talks between the Taliban and US representatives in the Qatari capital of Doha. Afghan non-combatants bore the brunt of violence within the past few years. All warring factions were engaged in killing civilians, including women and children, in some ways.
Last year was also highly deadly for Afghan civilians. On the one hand, the Taliban declared their spring offensive, on the other hand, the US reportedly dropped more bombs on Afghanistan than any other year. Releasing new figures, US central command said that US warplanes dropped 7,423 bombs and other munitions on the country, a nearly eightfold increase from 2015.
The large number of bombs and munitions led to the heavy casualties of civilians. As a result, the UN data said the US accounted for half the 1,149 civilian deaths attributed to pro-government forces in Afghanistan over the first three quarters of 2019. It added that the Taliban and other insurgent groups were responsible for 1,207 civilian deaths. In July last year, the UN recorded the highest number of civilian casualties in a single month.
Civilian casualties increased despite the fact that the US and Taliban representatives have been negotiating in Qatar to end the 18-year-old conflict. It is believed that the US sought to gain leverage on the Taliban through military means, and on the other hand, the Taliban intensified their attacks against US and Afghan forces to bargain over higher price at the table. However, military pressures only compounded the challenges and almost pushed the talks to a stalemate.
“The US side is very explicitly hoping to use the ramped-up strikes to gain leverage in the ongoing talks with the Taliban,” Frances Brown, who served as a senior national security council official in both the Obama and Trump administrations, is cited as saying.
“The Taliban side,” she added, “is also using their own ramped-up violence to gain leverage; as a consequence, we saw record levels of overall violence in the third quarter of 2019, as both sides thought they were heading toward a preliminary agreement.” She also said that the Trump administration lacked “clear political negotiating strategy”.
Afghans hoped that with the ongoing peace talks, civilian casualties would decrease. Last year, the Kabul administration urged the Taliban group not to declare their spring offensive as a gesture of goodwill for peace and called on the group to reduce violence and declare ceasefire. However, the Taliban turned a blind eye to all the demands. The heavy civilian casualties and the Taliban’s relentless insurgency triggered public mistrust in the peace talks. So far, the Taliban have not shown goodwill for peace. They neither reduced their violence against Afghan combatants and non-combatants nor accepted their demand for ceasefire.
A new survey shows that Afghan support peace with the Taliban and 68 percent want a ceasefire ahead of open-ended intra-Afghan dialogue. However, the Taliban are less likely to admit the public demand for truce.
Afghans are apprehensive about the outcome of the US-Taliban backdoor talks as the Taliban also turned down the US’ demand for ceasefire. Contrary to the increasing violence against civilians, the US and Taliban negotiators are close to reaching a peace agreement, which will pave the way for the intra-Afghan talks. Neither side has ascertained the view of Afghan people regarding the talks.
Warring factions have to observe the international humanitarian law and reduce violence against civilians. Intensifying attacks will only add to the pain and suffering of Afghan people.
The peace agreement, which is likely to be signed between the US and the Taliban, is expected to lead to peace and stability. If civilian casualties are not reduced, the agreement would not meet Afghans’ expectation.
It is believed that the Taliban are the main reason behind civilian casualties for two reasons: First, the Taliban stay in residential areas and use civilians as human shield. Second, they carry out suicide attacks in crowded areas of cities without regard to the fatalities of non-combatants. A large number of people, including women and children, were killed in suicide bombings within past years.
In the current year, Afghans still hold out hope that peace agreement between the US and Taliban and the start of intra-Afghan dialogue will put an end to the ongoing conflict and ensure a sustainable peace in the country. Unlike 2019, violence is expected to be reduced this year if the Taliban are really genuine in the talks.
Global stakeholders and the international community have to pressure warring factions to observe the humanitarian law and stop targeting civilians.