Afghanistan Analysts Network – English

Rights and Freedoms

The Civilian Cost of Armed Conflict in Afghanistan: An Overview of Recent Reports

Sari Kouvo 4 min

In July, the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission and UNAMA published their mid-year reports on civilian casualties and protection of civilians in the conflict in Afghanistan. AAN Senior Analyst, Sari Kouvo, takes a closer look at patterns identified on violations against – and protection of – civilians in the war in Afghanistan and brings in other, lesser known data.

In the aftermath of the killing of ten humanitarian aid workers in Badakhshan (see Kate’s six blogs about these killings), it is useful to take a look at some of the recent reports about civilian casualties in the conflict in Afghanistan.

According to the AIHRC’s report, 1325 civilians were killed during armed conflict in the first seven months of 2010. 67.5 per cent of these were caused by ‘anti-government elements’ (AGEs) and 25 per cent by pro-government forces (PGFs). The latter include international and Afghan armed forces. i.e. there is no clear statistical differentiation between these two categories. The report identifies few changes of patterns from the previous year, except an increase in executions and targeted killings by AGEs. This year, the AIHRC has already recorded 197 targeted killings of government officials, government supports, tribal elders and other civilians as opposed to 225 during the whole of 2009. A more positive development is the decrease in civilian casualties as a result of aerial bombings as part of international military operations.

The figures reported in the UNAMA mid-year report, which cover the first six months of 2010 are slightly different: UNAMA has recorded 1271 civilian deaths and 1997 civilians injuries due to the conflict. According to UNAMA this represents a rise of over 30 per cent compared to 2009. Changes in patterns identified by UNAMA include a rise in executions and targeted killings and the use of more sophisticated improvised explosive devices (IEDs). Just as the AIHRC, UNAMA has also recorded a declining number of civilian casualties as a consequence of aerial bombings. This year UNAMA has documented 22 incidents of airstrikes that has resulted in 69 civilians killed and 45 civilians injured. These majority of these incidents occurred in the south and east. This is a sharp decrease from the same period in 2009 when 191 civilians were reported killed and 97 injured. UNAMA views the decrease in civilian casualties cause by aerial bombings as a result of the implantation o COMISAF’s tactical directive on restriction of airstrikes (adopted in July 2009 and last updated 4 August 2010). UNAMA suggests, however, that increased focus on transparency of investigations and accountability for any civilian casualties caused by air strikes would further strengthen civilian protection.

There are, however, new incidents of civilian casualties caused by NATO airstrikes occur under unfortunate circumstances that contradict the officially announced policy of protecting civilians. On the very day – on 5 August – when General Petraeus announced that he would stick to his predecessor‘s line to limit airstrikes, US jets bombed what they thought was an insurgent convoy in Nangrahar province. Itturned out that the around 12 people killed in this aerial attack belonged to a funeral cortege of flood victims. (Afghanistan was also hit by the floods currently devastating neighbouring Pakistan.)

The number of civilian casualties and especially the sharp rise in –recorded –executions and targeted killings present a tragic picture of the result of the conflict. The figures, on both sides, also reflect that the level of violence has further grown – and this has far reaching consequences on daily life all over Afghanistan.

A more complex – but not less bleak – picture emerges when the AIHRC and UNAMA updates are read together with other recent accounts of the civilian cost of conflict in Afghanistan.

In April this year, the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC) reported that 240,000 Afghans were internally displaced due to the conflict. This figure should be read with some skepticism: As opposed to the AIHRC and UNAMA reports, IDMC has not done field research in Afghanistan and its update relies on figures by the IDP Task Force, a joint Afghan government and international task force. IDMC recognizes itself that the actual figure of those displaced by conflict is probably higher. The IDMC analysis shows the fluid nature or reasons for internal displacements: While the trigger for leaving (or not returning) to one’s home may be ongoing armed conflict, poverty and lack of access to basic services often contribute to secondary displacement in urban centers. (Since 2002, Kabul has been one of the world’s fastest growing cities, and a fair amount of the growth from around 1.5 million to over 4 million habitants can be attributed to internal displacement).

In June, the Watchlist of Children and Armed Conflict published its report on protecting children affected by armed conflict in Afghanistan. This report pushes the analysis of the civilian cost of conflict a step further: It does not only look at the immediate consequences of the conflict on children (incl. casualties and displacements), but also at the consequences of the lack of health care and education. For example, the report highlights The Lancet’s study showing that one fifth of children surveyed in Kabul, Bamyan and Mazar showed signs of psychiatric disorders. Earlier this year, a report on the same topic by the UN Special Rapporteur’s report on children and armed conflict maps – the scattered – information about the use and abuse of children in the context of the armed conflict.

The Liaison Office (TLO)/Open Society Institute (OSI) report on night raids and its recommendations has been discussed in Martine’s blog with an emphasis on the different ‘realities’ of those ‘kicking down the doors’ and those who have their doors kicked down.

The issue of civilian casualties has been contagious over the past years: Today, the cost of civilian casualties in human terms and for the institutions/parties causing them is recognized. COMISAF has through his tactical directive restricting airstrikes ) suggested that ISAF recognizes the cost – at least for them – of civilian casualties and the Taliban through their reaction to the UNAMA mid-term report and with their updated code of conduct suggest that they are also recognizing that killing civilians does not pay. For a discussion see article.

However, reading the recent AIHRC and UNAMA updates in the context with the earlier more contextual reports, the questions that I ponder are: What next? How will the voices of the victims be heard in the government’s planned reintegration and reconciliation process? How to you do the proposed local grievance resolution and mediation with the displaced populations?


Human Rights UNAMA