AAN Thematic Dossiers

Thematic Dossier XXIV: Ten years of reporting on civilian casualties, still no ceasefire


An injured man uses a piece of timber as a crutch to try to get away from the scene of one of the worst attacks since 2001. The Taleban said they were targeting the Ministry of Interior buildings in Kabul. Using a van painted to look like an ambulance, the suicide attack killed 114 civilians, and injured 229 more. Such intentional killing of civilians by Taleban is one of the crimes the ICC Prosecutor had wanted to investigate. (Photo: Andrew Quilty, 2018)
An injured man uses a piece of timber as a crutch to try to get away from the scene of one of the worst attacks since 2001. The Taleban said they were targeting the Ministry of Interior buildings in Kabul. Using a van painted to look like an ambulance, the suicide attack killed 114 civilians, and injured 229 more. Such intentional killing of civilians by Taleban is one of the crimes the ICC Prosecutor had wanted to investigate. (Photo: Andrew Quilty, 2018).

As the Taleban and the United States sit down together again to discuss the possibility of a peace agreement, the issue that appears to be most pressing for Afghans is a ceasefire. Not surprising given that 2019 is likely to be the sixth year in a row when the number of civilians killed and injured in the conflict exceeds ten thousand. It seemed an appropriate time to bring together AAN’s reporting on civilian casualties into a new dossier.

Over the last ten years, we have assessed statistics, mapped major trends and looked at how the various forces fighting in Afghanistan ­– international, government and Taleban – have conducted themselves. We have scrutinised attempts and failures to mitigate civilian casualties and investigate violations of the laws of war. We have also honed in on particular attacks, trying to honour the victims by publishing their names and biographies and always attempting to present the human face of the suffering brought about by the Afghan conflict.

In a recent research project, AAN asked people in ten districts across Afghanistan for their views on the US-Taleban talks, the prospects of a national deal ending the conflict locally, and what people could do locally to help bring about peace nationally (see reports here and here). One common theme that emerged was a deep desire for a ceasefire and an end to the violence, so that people would be able to sleep at night, travel on the roads and get their children to school in safety.

A ceasefire was indeed one of four topics on US Special Envoy Zalmay Khalilzad’s original list to be discussed with the Taleban, the others being US troop withdrawal, anti-terrorism guarantees from the Taleban and the start of an ‘intra-Afghan dialogue’. Dialogue and ceasefire had apparently slipped to a phase two of negotiations in the original, unpublished US-Taleban draft agreement, which was anyway vetoed by President Trump in September (see AAN reporting here). Now, as talks re-start, the issue of a ceasefire has re-emerged, at least rhetorically. Trump announced on a trip to Afghanistan on 28 November 2019 that the Taleban wanted “to do a ceasefire”, although as The Washington Post noted wryly, “neither the Taliban nor the government of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani indicated that a cease-fire was near, or even being discussed in resumed U.S. negotiations.”

The Taleban have so far been adamant they will not order a ceasefire at this stage, and as The New York Times commented, “Demanding a cease-fire would amount to a big shift in the American position and require a significant new concession from the Taliban — one that the Americans have little leverage to extract.” President Ghani had been calling for a ceasefire as a precondition for any resumed talks, but as Kabul is sidelined from the negotiations, he has no power to insist on this. All that the State Department had to say in early December as Khalilzad travelled to Doha to ‘rejoin’ talks with the Taleban that he would be discussing “steps that could lead to intra-Afghan negotiations and a peaceful settlement of the war, specifically a reduction in violence that leads to a ceasefire.”

Meanwhile, it looks practically inevitable that, once again, more than ten thousand civilians will have been killed or injured in Afghanistan by the end of the year. UNAMA has already reported more than eight thousand civilian casualties over the first three quarters of 2019; between July and September, it said it had “documented the highest number of civilian casualties… in a single quarter since it began systematic documentation in 2009.” According to data collated by the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED), Afghanistan also obtained the horrific honour in 2018 of having the deadliest conflict in the world, ahead of Mexico, Yemen and Syria. This record looks set to be maintained in 2019. (1)

Putting together this dossier has been tough. The scale of the suffering in this war cannot ever be forgotten, but re-reading these dispatches was sobering. Inevitably, many of those whom we have written about were friends. There are also details of attacks that we spent many days, even months, investigating. It also seems inescapable that some of the victims named in this dossier will be remembered now only by family and friends, so great are the numbers of people being killed in this war.

Given that a ceasefire or at least a reduction in violence is so badly needed and wanted, it is also worth recalling three AAN dispatches reflecting on the one nationwide ceasefire experienced in recent years, the Eid truce of 2018 (see here, here and here). The ceasefire allowed, we wrote, Afghans to imagine their country at peace.

This dossier is split into four sections. The first section brings together our analyses of the reports by UNAMA (2) and other organisations tracking civilian casualties, for example, the NGO-safety organisation INSO, and ISAF (both ceased releasing statistics in 2013). These dispatches scrutinise the harm done to civilians by the various actors in the war, including international troops, Afghan National Security Forces, Afghan Local Police, pro-government armed groups, the Taleban and other insurgents. They dispatches highlight the major trends, including the successes and failures of various measures to protect civilians, and where the laws of war have been flouted.

The second section focuses on civilian casualties caused by the Taleban and other insurgent groups. It includes investigations into single attacks, for example, the attack on the Park Palace Hotel in May 2015 or on Shia worshippers in a mosque in Paktia in August 2018. Wherever possible, we have named the victims and given brief biographies. This section also includes a report on the Taleban’s Layha, their code of conduct for fighters and officials, which has a substantial section on policies regarding the targeting and protection of civilians.

The third section hones in on civilian casualties caused by international and government forces. These include scrutiny of airstrikes, drone attacks and night raids, as well as attacks by CIA-proxy forces. This section also includes a full-length report on the killing of ten election workers in Takhar in August 2010, men whom the US claimed were Taleban; the report, possibly uniquely, managed to speak to all parties: US special forces, witnesses and survivors, Afghan officials and even the Taleban commander whom the US claimed to have killed. It uncovered what appeared to be systematic failures in the intelligence used by the US for targeting, failures of a magnitude which possibly amounted to a violation of the precautionary principle, one of the basic principles of the laws of war which aim to protect civilians. This section also includes an investigation into the killing of a BBC journalist in Uruzgan in a US counter-attack.

A final short fourth section looks at attacks committed by unknown or various actors.

(1) The Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED) which collected the data, wrote in 2018: “The war in Afghanistan is the most lethal conflict in the world: Afghanistan was by far the deadliest country covered by ACLED in 2018, with nearly as many fatalities as Syria and Yemen combined, and 30% of all fatalities reported by ACLED during the year at more than 41,000.” While the 2019 figures are not yet published, this year looks to have been just as violent.

(2) For all UNAMA’s Reports on the Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict, see here.

 

Section 1: Analysis of UNAMA and other reports tracking civilian casualties 

Afghanistan’s 2019 Election (19): An ambiguous picture of E-day civilian casualties

Author: Thomas Ruttig

Date: 17 October 2019

The latest UNAMA report and other figures paint a mixed picture of the level of violence Afghanistan experienced on election day. On one hand, the day remained calmer than many feared, without the massive terror attacks threatened by the Taleban. On the other hand, 28 September was the second-most violent election day the country has ever experienced. AAN’s Thomas Ruttig looks at the figures in context, also the mute media reporting of violence on E-day and the propaganda war playing out around incident and casualty figures.

Afghanistan’s 2019 Election (19): An ambiguous picture of E-day civilian casualties

New UNAMA Civilian Causalities Report: US targeting of alleged drug labs goes against international humanitarian law

Author: Jelena Bjelica

Date: 10 October 2019

UNAMA released a special report on Wednesday 9 October, which examines in detail the United States airstrikes against alleged methamphetamine processing facilities in Bakwa district of Farah province. The report concludes that the operation, which took place on 5 May 2019, “did not meet the definition of legitimate military objectives under international law.” It is not clear how many airstrikes the US conducted against alleged drug labs since November 2017 when it began targeting these facilities under the new authorities granted by the Trump Administration’s South Asia strategy. In this dispatch, AAN’s Jelena Bjelica summarises UNAMA’s findings and lays out what we know so far about US airstrikes against alleged drug labs in Afghanistan.

New UNAMA Civilian Causalities Report: US targeting of alleged drug labs goes against international humanitarian law

Civilians at Greater Risk from Pro-government Forces: While peace seems more elusive?

Author: Rachel Reid and Jelena Bjelica

Date: 9 June 2019

After a Ramadan stained with violence, peace seems remote. Both sides have intensified the tempo of the conflict, with civilians paying a heavy price. While the Taleban appear to be exercising more care with some tactics that protect civilians, they continue to unlawfully target civilians with others, as recent attacks demonstrate. The US and Afghan forces have increased their military pressure on the Taleban to try to force them to the negotiation table, but, as a consequence, civilian casualties from airstrikes and search operations have soared. Pro-government forces are now responsible for more civilian harm than the Taleban and other non-state groups. The latest data may also point to fewer measures to protect civilians under the Trump administration. AAN’s Rachel Reid and Jelena Bjelica look at the changing dynamics of the Afghan war through the lens of the SIGAR’s regular quarterly report and UNAMA’s first quarterly civilian casualties report for 2019 and ask what it might mean for ongoing peace negotiations.

Civilians at Greater Risk from Pro-government Forces: While peace seems more elusive?

Record Numbers of Civilian Casualties Overall, from Suicide Attacks and Air Strikes: UNAMA reports on the conflict in 2018

Author: Kate Clark

Date: 24 February 2019

The downturn in civilian casualties recorded in 2017 has reversed. UNAMA, in its 2018 Annual Report on the Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict in Afghanistan, released today, records almost 11,000 civilians injured or killed in 2018, a five per cent increase compared to 2017. It is the highest number of civilian casualties on record. The Taleban continue to cause the most civilian casualties, says UNAMA, although the Islamic State’s local franchise, ISKP, and its use of suicide attacks has pushed casualties from that type of attack to a new high. Civilian casualties from air operations, mainly carried out by international forces, are also at an unprecedented high. Certain parts of the Afghan security apparatus – largely CIA-supported and operating with impunity – have also precipitated a huge jump in civilian casualties during search operations. AAN co-director Kate Clark has delved into the report.

Record Numbers of Civilian Casualties Overall, from Suicide Attacks and Air Strikes: UNAMA reports on the conflict in 2018

UNAMA Mid-Year Report on Civilian Casualties: Highest number of deaths on record

Author: Kate Clark

Date: 15 July 2018

UNAMA has released its mid-year assessment of the harm done to civilians in the Afghan conflict. It found that more civilians were killed in the first six months of 2018 than in any year since 2009 when UNAMA started systematic monitoring. This was despite the Eid ul-Fitr ceasefire, which all parties to the conflict apart from ISKP, the local ‘franchise’ of Daesh, honoured. Particularly worrying trends, says AAN co-director Kate Clark, were Nangrahar province becoming almost as bloody as Kabul and increased targeting of schools.

UNAMA Mid-Year Report on Civilian Casualties: Highest number of deaths on record

Two New Reports on Afghan Civilian Casualties: Gruelling, but important reading 

Author: Kate Clark
Date: 9 May 2018

UNAMA and Human Rights Watch have each released blistering reports on the killing and wounding of civilians in the Afghan conflict. UNAMA presents the results of its investigation into the Afghan Air Force’s bombing of an open-air graduation ceremony at a madrassa in Dasht-e Archi in Kunduz province in April. It concludes that, even if the air force had a military target, no care was taken to spare the many civilians present, including the dozens of children who were killed or injured. It is the voices of the civilian victims and survivors of insurgent attacks in urban areas, which are at the heart of the Human Rights Watch publication. Both reports, says AAN’s Kate Clark, make important reading.

 

Two New Reports on Afghan Civilian Casualties: Gruelling, but important reading

Nine Per Cent Reduction in Civilian Casualties in 2017: Better news (but still bad)

Author: Kate Clark

Date: 15 February 2018

For the first time since 2012, UNAMA has recorded a year-on-year decrease – of nine per cent – in civilian casualties sustained during the Afghan conflict. This relatively good news still meant that more than ten thousand civilians were killed and injured during 2017. There are glimmers of hope in UNAMA’s report; the Afghan National Security Forces took more precautions, it said, to protect civilians during ground engagements. There were ominous trends, too; almost a quarter of all casualties were killed or injured in suicide or complex attacks, most of them in Kabul, the highest numbers on record. Also, as AAN Co-Director Kate Clark points out, more than a quarter of all civilians killed or injured were deliberately targeted and most casualties were preventable.

Nine Per Cent Reduction in Civilian Casualties in 2017: Better news (but still bad)

More violent, more widespread: Trends in Afghan security in 2017

Author: Thomas Ruttig

Date: 29 January 2018

Civilian casualties have reached an all-time high, plateauing in 2016 and 2017. Children and women represented two thirds of casualties by air strikes in the first nine months of 2017: Injured boy in Helmand province. Continuing our look back at key developments in Afghanistan in 2017, after migration and peace talks, we come to security. Tracking trends in security has become more difficult, as more areas suffering conflict have become inaccessible and those fighting – both Afghan and international –less transparent. However, AAN’s Thomas Ruttig has identified indicators to gauge what the trends were in 2017, compared both to 2016 and to 2014 when the character of western military involvement changed. He confirms that these trends show that the Afghan war became more violent and widespread in 2017.

More violent, more widespread: Trends in Afghan security in 2017

UNAMA Documents Slight Decrease in Civilian Casualties: Indications of new trends in the Afghan war

Author: Kate Clark

Date: 12 October 2017

There has been a six per cent decrease in the number of civilians killed and wounded in the conflict this year compared to the first nine months of 2016 – a year which saw record highs in civilian harm. The latest UNAMA report on civilian casualties provides, as always, sobering statistics of how Afghan civilians are being killed and injured in the war and by whom. AAN’s Kate Clark has been looking at the figures and assessing what they say about trends in the conflict. She also takes a special look at what the recently announced, intensified air campaign by the United States and Afghan air forces may mean for Afghan civilian casualties.

UNAMA Documents Slight Decrease in Civilian Casualties: Indications of new trends in the Afghan war

UNAMA Mid-Year Report 2017: Number of civilian casualties still at “record level”

Author: Jelena Bjelica and Thomas Ruttig

Date: 18 July 2017

The number of civilians in the war in Afghanistan remained on “record high levels” in the first six months of 2017, with Kabul remaining the most affected city in the country. These are the two main features that stand out in UNAMA’s just released mid-year report on the protection of civilians in armed conflict. It appears that, in summary, any progress in protecting civilians from some types of violence is undermined by relapses in others. AAN’s Jelena Bjelica and Thomas Ruttig summarise the main findings of the report, including the key conflict trends UNAMA observed in the first half of the year.

UNAMA Mid-Year Report 2017: Number of civilian casualties still at “record level”

More Horrific Records Set: UNAMA documents another peak year of civilian casualties

Author: Kate Clark

Date: 6 February 2017

More than eleven thousand civilians were killed or injured in the conflict in Afghanistan last year, setting a grisly new record – the highest number of civilian casualties recorded by UNAMA in any year since it started systematic documentation in 2009. In its 2016 annual report on the protection of civilians in the conflict, UNAMA also revealed that last year was the deadliest for children nationwide, and for Kabulis of all ages. UNAMA also recorded the most civilians killed and injured in ground engagements, suicide and complex attacks, and aerial strikes in any year. There were falls in civilian casualties resulting from targeted killings and IEDs, reports AAN Senior Analyst Kate Clark, but they were not enough to offset an overall increase in numbers.

More Horrific Records Set: UNAMA documents another peak year of civilian casualties

The Bloodiest Year Yet: UN reports on civilian casualties in 2015

Author: Kate Clark

Date: 14 February 2016

2015 was the worst year for civilians in the Afghan conflict since UNAMA started systematically documenting casualties in 2009. Its annual report looking at the protection of civilians in 2015 found the trend towards more casualties in 2015 particularly marked for women and children. For women, IEDs are now the second biggest killer, with increased fighting in and around populated centres and a growing number of women trying to escape the conflict or get back home. As AAN Country Director Kate Clark reports, there were only a few bright spots in this report.

The Bloodiest Year Yet: UN reports on civilian casualties in 2015

Highest Civilian Casualty Figures Ever: UNAMA details deaths by mortar, IED, suicide attack and targeted killing

Author: Kate Clark

Date: 5 August 2015

UNAMA has published its mid-year assessment of the harm done to civilians by the warring parties in Afghanistan (full report here): the number of civilians killed and injured has risen again. There were 4921 civilian casualties, the highest number for the first half of any year since UNAMA started documenting them. 70 per cent were attributed to the Taleban and other opposition groups. UNAMA also reports sharp rises in casualties from targeted killings – for the first time, these are the biggest killer of civilians – and suicide and complex attacks. There has also been a big increase in civilians killed by pro-government forces in ground engagements; more are now dying from government mortars, rockets and grenades than from the Taleban’s. UNAMA has also catalogued horrific abuses by pro-government militias, increasingly seen as a weapon of necessity by a government under pressure from the Taleban. AAN’s Country Director, Kate Clark, reports.

Highest Civilian Casualty Figures Ever: UNAMA details deaths by mortar, IED, suicide attack and targeted killing

The Human Cost of the Afghan War: UN reports sharp rise in the killed and injured

Author: Kate Clark

Date: 18 February 2015

Evidence – if more was needed – of the intensification of the Afghan war has come in the United Nations’ annual report on civilian casualties. 25 per cent more civilians were killed in the conflict in 2014 than in 2013, almost all Afghans by Afghans. Most civilians are now being killed in ground engagements, an indication of a shift in the way the war is being fought. However, IEDs laid by the Taleban and other rebel groups remain the second biggest killer. Afghan national security forces come out reasonably well; unlike most other parties to the conflict, they do not appear to deliberately target civilians, but the report shows the impunity with which pro-government armed groups abuse local populations. And as Kate Clark reports, the UN has also charted the desperate situation of war widows.

The Human Cost of the Afghan War: UN reports sharp rise in the killed and injured

“A Dangerous New Turn”: UNAMA reports a sharp rise in civilian casualties

Author: Kate Clark

Date: 9 July 2014

For the first time since UNAMA started documenting civilian casualties in 2009, more civilians have been killed in ground fighting than from any other tactic. In its six monthly report on the protection of civilians, it reported “a direct correlation” in some areas between the closures of international bases and a rise in civilian casualties, especially from ground engagements. Kate Clark reports on how this “dangerous turn” to the conflict, as UNAMA puts it, has cost civilians dear, pushing up deaths and injuries by a quarter.

“A Dangerous New Turn”: UNAMA reports a sharp rise in civilian casualties

Continuing Conflict Is Not Victory: What the 2013 UNAMA civilian casualties report tells us about the war

Author: Kate Clark

Date: 11 February 2014

The conflict in Afghanistan is now overwhelmingly Afghan versus Afghan – this is one of the conclusions to be drawn from UNAMA’s 2013 Protection of Civilians report. 8,615 civilians were killed or wounded during 2013 and only three per cent of those by the international military forces. Counting deaths and injuries together, 2013 was more violent even than 2011, the previous peak year for civilian casualties. Most civilians – 74 per cent – were killed or injured by the Taleban and other insurgent groups. President Karzai’s hoped-for scenario of peace returning to Afghanistan’s villages as foreign forces withdrew is looking hollow, as do Taleban claims that victory is imminent and ISAF’s optimistic assertions of success. AAN Senior Analyst, Kate Clark, reports on the continuing war in Afghanistan.

Continuing Conflict Is Not Victory: What the 2013 UNAMA civilian casualties report tells us about the war

Fewer Deaths, But…: UNAMA’s 2012 Civilian Casualties Report

Author: Kate Clark
Date: 19 February 2013

‘Civilian deaths in Afghan Conflict fall for the first time in six years’ was the good news top line of the new 2012 report by UNAMA on the protection of civilians. Fewer civilians were killed in suicide attacks, ground engagements and aerial attacks, said UNAMA. The Taleban remain responsible for bulk of civilian deaths, while claiming even more frequently that they protect civilians. The biggest overall killer are IEDs. But targeted killings of civilians by insurgents also doubled in 2012, compared with 2011, with seven times more civilian government officials killed. International and Afghan government forces, however, have taken various measures to mitigate casualties, says UNAMA, although they can still do more. In the wake of ISAF targeted killings using air strikes which ended up killing civilians, UNAMA questions how exactly the international military determines when a person is ‘hostile’. AAN Senior Analyst Kate Clark says that the pattern of civilian casualties shown in this insightful report reflects how the conflict is changing, not least in the proliferation of armed actors; ‘armed groups’ (ie not insurgents or state forces) for example, are mentioned for the first time in a UNAMA report.

Fewer Deaths, But…: UNAMA’s 2012 Civilian Casualties Report (amended)

Talks Have Not Stopped Killing of Afghan Civilians

Author: Kate Clark
Date: 4 February 2012

The number of Afghan civilians being killed in the war has risen yet again, according to UNAMA’s yearly assessment of civilian casualties for 2011. The eight per cent increase since 2010 (25 per cent increase since 2009) is largely due to the actions of ‘anti-government elements’, as the UN refers to the insurgents who are, of course, largely Taleban, but also include the various other Afghan and foreign jihadist groups. Deaths attributed to ‘pro-government forces’ – the international and Afghan government forces – are down by four per cent, but the ANSF share rises steeply. Kate Clark, a senior analyst at AAN, looks at the figures.

Talks Have Not Stopped Killing of Afghan Civilians

Reality off the records: Afghan civilian casualties and NATO’s narrative

Author: Thomas Ruttig

Date: 9 March 2011

Facts from the latest UN and AIHRC report: 2,777 Afghan civilians have been killed in 2010 – these are more than ever before since the US-led intervention started in 2001 and 15 per cent more than in 2009. Insurgents were held responsible for 75 per cent of these casualties, Afghan government and Western forces for 16 per cent. The number of killed children rose above average, by 21 per cent – that of women still by 6 per cent. More than 102,000 Afghans were displaced by the conflict.

Reality off the records: Afghan civilian casualties and NATO’s narrative

Section 2: Civilian Casualties and the Taleban

 Not Everybody’s Hero: The assassinated communist-turned-post-2001-parliamentary candidate Jabbar Qahraman

Author: Michael Semple
Date: 31 October 2018

The assassination of Kandahar’s police chief and strongman of southern Afghanistan Abdul Razeq in Kandahar on 18 October, along with the province’s NDS chief, and more members of the provincial leadership wounded soon overshadowed the killing of parliamentary candidate Abdul Jabbar Qahraman in neighbouring Helmand by a bomb one day earlier. Qahraman means ‘hero’, a title he had earned as a militia leader under former president Najibullah. His siding with the Watan Party government did not make him everybody’s hero in Afghanistan and former mujahedin declined to honour Qahraman alongside Razeq. President Ashraf Ghani paid a visit to Qahraman’s family on 28 October 2018. An obituary by guest author Michael Semple.

Not Everybody’s Hero: The assassinated communist-turned-post-2001-parliamentary candidate Jabbar Qahraman

Hitting Gardez: A vicious attack on Paktia’s Shias

Author: Fabrizio Foschini

Date: 18 August 2018

Afghan Shia Muslims are feeling increasingly beleaguered after two massacres targeting their community this month. Both were claimed by the Afghan ‘franchise’ of Daesh, the Islamic State in Khorasan Province (ISKP). On 3 August, gunmen killed at least 38 men and boys during Friday prayers at a village mosque in the outskirts of Gardez city. Three families lost all their men, from young boys to grandfathers. This week, on 15 August, a suicide bomber walked into an education centre in the Hazara-majority Dasht-e Barchi neighbourhood of Kabul. At least 40 people were killed, most of them teenage students, girls and boys, who had been studying for the university entrance exam. In the midst of this onslaught, AAN felt the need to pay tribute to at least some of the victims, in an attempt to make sure such deaths do not become the ‘routine’ of this conflict. Here, AAN’s Fabrizio Foschini looks at what happened when the small community of Shia Sadat (descendants of the Prophet) in Paktia province came under attack.

Hitting Gardez: A vicious attack on Paktia’s Shias

Five Questions to Make Sense of the New Peak in Urban Attacks and a Violent Week in Kabul

Author: Thomas Ruttig

Date: 5 February 2018

Between 20 and 29 January 2018, there were five high profile attacks in major cities and districts in Afghanistan. The three by far largest ones happened in the capital Kabul. This feeds into a month-long period of such attacks that began in late December 2017. Altogether, almost 250 people, most of them civilians, were killed in these attacks. Three of them (and half of the attacks countrywide) have been claimed by the Islamic State and two by the Taleban, but with the changing dynamics of the Afghan conflict is it becoming increasingly difficult to trust the claims of responsibility or to attribute responsibility. AAN’s Thomas Ruttig – with input from the AAN team – tries to make sense of the attacks and what they mean for the continued conflict and politics in Afghanistan.

Five Questions to Make Sense of the New Peak in Urban Attacks and a Violent Week in Kabul

The Assault in Sayad: Did Taleban and Daesh really collaborate?

Author: Obaid Ali

Date: 9 August 2017

Armed militants have overrun Afghan Local Police (ALP) and a public uprising unit’s posts in the Mirza Olang village of Sayad district in Sar-e Pul province on 6 August 2017. Dozens of civilians were reportedly killed. There is another dimension, however, that created widespread international media reporting about the incident: claims by local officials that Taleban and Daesh fighters – usually fighting each other – had committed the atrocities in a “rare joint” operation. AAN’s Obaid Ali explored the insurgents’ configuration in this area and found no Daesh presence there (with input from Thomas Ruttig).

The Assault in Sayad: Did Taleban and Daesh really collaborate?

A Black Week in Kabul (2): Who are the most likely perpetrators?

Author: Borhan Osman

Date: 7 June 2017

On 31 May and 3 June 2017, Kabul was the scene of a series of new terrorist bomb attacks that took a heavy toll on the civilian population. While no group has claimed the attacks, the Afghan government has pointed at the Haqqani network, which is part of the Taleban. All this leaves room for various hypotheses and conspiracy theories. In this piece, following up on an earlier AAN summary of events and analysis of the political tensions that followed the bombings, AAN’s Borhan Osman weighs up the few clues available so far and assesses the most plausible explanations as to who could have been behind these attacks, and why. 

A Black Week in Kabul (2): Who are the most likely perpetrators?

A Black Week in Kabul (1): Terror and protests

Author: Martine van Bijlert and Thomas Ruttig

Date: 4 June 2017

It has been an incredibly difficult week for Kabul. In four days, over a hundred people were killed and several hundreds injured – most of them in a massive terrorist attack in central Kabul on 31 May 2017. Two days later, as angry protests threatened to become violent, the police opened fire killing and injuring several more people. The next day, during the funeral of one of the victims, a triple suicide attack tore through the rows of the mourners just as they started their prayers – miraculously leaving most of the gathered Jamiat leaders unharmed. The situation in Kabul remains tense, but there have been no further protests yet, as politicians mull their options. AAN’s Martine van Bijlert and Thomas Ruttig describe how the events of the past few days unfolded and quickly became highly political (with input from Obaid Ali and Ali Adili).

A Black Week in Kabul: Terror and protests

With an Active Cell in Kabul, ISKP Tries to Bring Sectarianism to the Afghan War

Author: Borhan Osman

Date: 19 October 2016

With its publically claimed attack on Afghan Shia mourners in Kabul on the eve of Ashura, the Islamic State Khorasan Province (ISKP) was clearly attempting to add a toxic sectarianism to the Afghan conflict. The attack, which killed 19 people, followed two other ISKP attacks, on a political demonstration by (largely Shia) Hazaras in July in which 80 people were killed and on a security convoy of the Canadian embassy that killed 14 Nepalese guards, in June. In the wake of these attacks, AAN’s Borhan Osman assesses both ISKP’s strength and operational capacity in Kabul and its desire to ferment sectarianism.

With an Active Cell in Kabul, ISKP Tries to Bring Sectarianism to the Afghan War

Carnage in Ghor: Was Islamic State the perpetrator or was it falsely accused? 

Author: Borhan Osman

Date: 23 November 2016

The Islamic State, holed up in a few districts in eastern Afghanistan, has suddenly popped up in a faraway western province, Ghor – at least according to provincial officials. They blamed IS for the massacre in October 2016 of more than 30 civilians. Digging deeper into the incident, AAN’s Borhan Osman found that the IS claim was false: The gang responsible were criminals and had historical links to both the Taleban and parts of the central government, but was not part of IS. A closer look at the incident reveals a far stranger, but no less worrying tale than was reported.

Carnage in Ghor: Was Islamic State the perpetrator or was it falsely accused? 

The Attack on the American University in Kabul (2): Who did it and why?

Author: Borhan Osman

Date: 5 September 2016

The attack on the American University in Kabul on 24 August 2016 was unprecedented in many respects. For the first time, a ‘complex attack’ – often reserved for high-profile and well-guarded targets – hit an educational institution. It also came in the wake of an ideological campaign by circles in the Taleban movement that had demonised the American University Afghanistan (AUAF) as a centre of hostile ‘Western’ efforts. No group – including the Taleban – has officially claimed responsibility for this attack, leaving a lot of ambiguity. AAN’s Borhan Osman looks into the insurgency’s internal dynamics – the rise of new ideologues and young ultra-radicals influenced by them and their influence on Taleban decision-making – for clues about the ‘who’ and the ‘why’ of the assault.

The Attack on the American University in Kabul (2): Who did it and why?

The Attack on the American University in Kabul (1): What happened and who the victims were

Author: AAN Team

Date: 4 September 2016

By the time the attack on the American University in Afghanistan (AUAF) in Kabul on 24 August 2016 ended, 13 people had been killed and 49 wounded, most of them students. Families looking forward to bright futures for their children have been left to bury them or are now waiting anxiously at hospital bedsides. No group has claimed responsibility for the attack. The AAN team has spoken to over a dozen people who survived the attack and put together an account of what happened during the attack and, in commemoration, gathered biographical details of the students and the lecturer killed.

The Attack on the American University in Kabul (1): What happened and who the victims were

A Shaken City: On the Taleban‘s truck-bomb attack in Kabul 

Author: Martine van Bijlert

Date: 21 April 2016

The explosion which shook Kabul on 19 April 2016 was so large its reverberation could be felt throughout almost the entire city. All that day, and the next, the death toll continued to rise. Official figures currently stand at 68 killed and 347 injured, but the real numbers are likely to be higher. The scale of the attack, and the complete disregard for civilian life in carrying it out, shocked the population and led to a mix of anger, exhaustion and defiance. There were calls for revenge and acts of courage and resilience. AAN’s Martine van Bijlert takes a closer look.

A Shaken City: On the Taleban‘s truck-bomb attack in Kabul

The ‘Zabul Seven’ Protests: Who speaks for the victims? 

Author: Martine van Bijlert

Date: 12 November 2015

On 11 November 2015, Kabul witnessed probably one of the largest demonstrations in recent history. The trigger was the slaughter of seven Hazara travellers who had been taken hostage in Zabul province about a month ago. The demonstration, which continued well into the night, became an amalgam of emotions and agendas: grief and horror over the attacks; defiance against brutality; exasperation over the perceived non-responsiveness of the government; calls for greater security, alongside the airing of more localised demands; and, possibly, among some, a hope to further undermine the government. The government initially focused mainly on the latter part, largely treating the demonstration as a threat and a slight, while ignoring the underlying emotions that brought so many people who had no direct link to the victims on the streets.

The ‘Zabul Seven’ Protests: Who speaks for the victims?

 The Triple Attack in Kabul: A message? If so, to whom?

Author: Kate Clark

Date: 10 August 2015

Kabul is facing the aftermath of yet another suicide attack, this time at the entrance to the airport where early reports suggested 21 people were killed or injured. People in the capital were already in shock from the bloody events of 7 August: three attacks in 24 hours that killed more than 50 people and injured more than 300, overwhelmingly civilian. After a turbulent month for the Taleban – forced to go to peace talks and then admit Mullah Omar was dead and in the middle of a leadership struggle and under speculation that the movement is weakened – many wondered if the triple attacks were a ‘message’ from the movement. Today, at least, President Ghani had his own post-7 August message to both the Taleban and Pakistan. AAN Country Director Kate Clark reports.

The Triple Attack in Kabul: A message? If so, to whom?

The Park Palace Attack: More losses for Afghanistan (updated with a list of the dead)

Author: Kate Clark

Date: 14 May 2015

The Taleban attack on a Kabul guesthouse which killed 15 people (not 14, as earlier reports said) on 13 May 2015 was aimed, the Taleban claimed, at “invaders”, specifically an “important meeting” of “important people from many invading countries, especially Americans.” In this update of our earlier dispatch, AAN’s Kate Clark identifies all the dead: all were civilian and eight were aid workers, five, Afghans from the regions who had been visiting Kabul for training. Even by the Taleban’s own crude metrics of nationality apparently denoting ‘targetability’, she says just two of the dead came from NATO member states. Moreover, once again, she says, the Taleban have breached the distinction between military and civilian, seemingly branding all foreigners as ‘invaders’. Along with biographical details of all those killed, she pays tribute to one of them in particular, a friend of AAN’s, the former director of the Afghanistan Research and Evaluation Unit (AREU), Paula Kantor, who was a serious-minded, generous researcher and mentor who carried out important work on reducing poverty in Afghanistan.

The Park Palace Attack: More losses for Afghanistan (updated with a list of the dead)

First wave of IS attacks? Claim and denial over the Jalalabad bombs

Author: Kate Clark and Borhan Osman

Date: 22 April 2015

The suicide attack on the Kabul Bank in Jalalabad on 18 April 2015, which killed more than 30 people and injured at least 100 others, was condemned by the Taleban and claimed by the Islamic State (IS), or at least by a Facebook site purporting to represent IS, also known as Daesh. President Ashraf Ghani also appeared to endorse the Daesh claim. As Kate Clark and Borhan Osman report, despite the ‘Daesh attack’ making news headlines around the world, both claim and denial have to be carefully scrutinised.

First wave of IS attacks? Claim and denial over the Jalalabad bombs

Elections and Foreigners: An analysis of recent Taleban violence

Author: Kate Clark

Date: 3 April 2014

The Taleban have again warned Afghans not to take part in Saturday’s elections, saying they would be attacking election centres and targeting “all parts of the country”. Earlier they warned they would be using “all force” at their disposal to disrupt the “upcoming sham elections”. Kabul has seen two ‘spectacular’ attacks against election-related targets in the run-up to the election – the headquarters and a sub-office of the Independent Election Commission (IEC). It has also seen two attacks against, what the Taleban described as ‘foreign’ targets – the Serena Hotel and a ‘church’/guesthouse – and one against the Ministry of Interior. AAN’s Kate Clark has been looking into recent Taleban violence, assessing pre-election attacks and asking if there is a new focus on targeting foreign civilians.

Elections and Foreigners: An analysis of recent Taleban violence

A Sad Nawruz: Violence risks tainting an important Afghan holiday 

Author: AAN Team

Date: 21 March 2014

 AAN had wanted to wake up on a Friday, post its piece about Nawruz special food traditions, and enjoy the quiet of one of the last weekends before elections and more hectic days of work. That this was a delusion became clear as details about yesterday’s attack at Kabul’s Serena hotel started to emerge. On afterthought, the whole idea had been optimistic to start with.

A Sad Nawruz: Violence risks tainting an important Afghan holiday

The Murder of Swedish Journalist Nils Horner: an assessment of the Fedai Mahaz claim

Author: Borhan Osman and Kate Clark

Date: 19 March 2014

The Swedish newspaper Expressen has published CCTV footage of the two men who allegedly killed the Swedish-British journalist, Nils Horner, in Kabul on 11 March. The pair can clearly be seen: they are young, clean-shaven and with short hair. Yet who they might be and why they killed the award-winning journalist still remains a mystery. The Taleban denied carrying out the attack, telling The New York Times, they did not kill the “independent journalists”. However, the murder was claimed by a small self-proclaiming splinter group, the Islami Tahrik Fedai Mahaz. AAN’s Borhan Osman and Kate Clark have been looking into who might have killed Nils Horner and assessing the Fedai Mahaz claim, a group Osman had already been researching.

The Murder of Swedish Journalist Nils Horner: an assessment of the Fedai Mahaz claim

Another Red Line Crossed: The Taverna attack and the killing of foreigners just because they were foreigners

Author: Kate Clark and Christine Roehrs

Date: 18 January 2014

The attack on the restaurant La Taverna du Liban, a favourite among Afghans and internationals in Kabul, has hit close to home for many working in and on Afghanistan. With 20 Afghans and foreigners killed while having dinner, it was one of the bloodiest and most ruthless strikes of the Taliban in years. This was an attack on foreign civilians targeted merely for being foreign – a rare occasion in the Afghan war. Kate Clark and Christine Roehrs (with input by Martine van Bijlert) summarise what happened and look at whether the incident may be a game changer, with particular consequences for aid work.

Another Red Line Crossed: The Taverna attack and the killing of foreigners just because they were foreigners (amended)

 Spring Offensive 2: Civilian casualties 

Author: Kate Clark

Date: 4 June 2013

At least fifteen children have been killed in the war in Afghanistan in the last 36 hours. All were ‘collateral damage’ from insurgent attacks – victims of two IEDs in Laghman and Farah and a suicide bomber’s blast in Paktia. The surge in the insurgency this year has been intense and civilians, generally, are being killed and wounded in far higher rates than last year. As AAN Senior Analyst Kate Clark reports, the sort of indiscriminate attacks of the last two days break the laws of armed conflict and may amount to war crimes. They also breach the Taleban’s own code of conduct.

Spring Offensive 2: Civilian casualties

After the ‘operational pause’: How big is the insurgents’ 2013 spring offensive?

Author: Thomas Ruttig

Date: 2 June 2013

With two high-profile attacks in Kabul and one in Jalalabad in the two last weeks, Afghanistan’s insurgents seem to have made true on their promise of a ‘monumental’ spring offensive. In terms of propaganda, the three attacks were successful: the media in Afghanistan and abroad gave the incidents wide coverage. AAN Co-Director Thomas Ruttig has been investigating insurgent activity over the past six months and comes to the conclusion that the level of violence this year has been high, approximately on a par with 2011, which was the worst year since the war began in 2001. There are larger concentrations and bolder attacks by the insurgents, combined with an influx of foreign fighters and madrassa students from Pakistan, although so far, mainly operating in peripheral areas. This could mean, however, the start of a build-up for more powerful attacks over the summer and into 2014. With the pending withdrawal of NATO combat forces, the Afghan war seems slowly to be changing its character, looking less like an insurgency against a foreign ‘occupation’ and more of a struggle between two indigenous contenders for power.

After the ‘operational pause’: How big is the insurgents’ 2013 spring offensive?

Attack on the ICRC 2: Taleban denial

Author: Kate Clark

Date: 1 June 2013

The Taleban have issued a rare public denial, saying they were not behind the suicide attack on the compound of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in Jalalabad on 30 May, which left one Afghan, Abdul Bashir, the father of eight children, dead and the ICRC’s humanitarian work in Jalalabad suspended. The Taleban said it did not target ‘those who truly work for the benefit of the people.’ As AAN senior analyst Kate Clark reports, since 2009, Taleban policy on NGOs generally has got much better and it has a good working relationship with the ICRC. Even so, Taleban claims and denials always have to be treated with a great deal of caution. Whoever did carry out this attack, she said wants to push the war into a new phase, regardless of the consequences to Afghanistan and its civilian population.

Attack on the ICRC 2: Taleban denial

 Attack on the ICRC: Crossing a Red Line

Author: Kate Clark

Date: 29 May 2013

Today, suicide bombers attacked the office of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in Jalalabad, killing an unarmed guard and wounding a delegate before the attack was suppressed by Afghan security forces. No-one has yet claimed responsibility for the attack. Nevertheless, the insurgency has crossed a red line. It is not just that the ICRC enjoys special protection under the Geneva Conventions. In Afghanistan, the organisation has earned itself a reputation for neutrality and dedication through successive stages of the decades-long war. Its worth is acknowledged by all, including the Taleban who last year called it an ‘impartial organization [which] works throughout the world for the needy, helpless and oppressed people’. AAN senior analyst, Kate Clark, looks at why this attack is so transgressive and what it might mean for the war in Afghanistan.

Attack on the ICRC: Crossing a Red Line

Striking at Kabul, in 2013: the attack on the traffic police HQ

Author: Fabrizio Foschini

Date: 21 January 2013

Just before dawn, the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) premises on the Deh Mazang roundabout in West Kabul came under attack. After a massive car bomb detonated in front of the building, an insurgent commando of five men tried to enter the traffic police headquarters. Two of them eventually made their way inside, and holed themselves in for eight hours. They were, as it is usually the case in such occasions, well furnished with weapons, including rockets and suicide vests. The siege ended around 3 pm when the last insurgent was gunned down by the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF). Policemen and passers-by were among the casualties. In a reprise of a piece previously published by AAN a year ago, Fabrizio Foschini looks at how today’s attack fits into current patterns of insurgent warfare and how Kabul’s security compares now with the days of Najibullah’s presidency, as security forces then fought off attacks by the mujahedin.

Striking at Kabul, in 2013: the attack on the traffic police HQ

On the borders: Where do the attacks in Nimruz come from?

Author: Fabrizio Foschini

Date: 18 August 2012

The recent multiple suicide attacks that hit Zaranj, the capital of Nimruz province – with possibly one of the single biggest losses of lives in the Afghan conflict – received relatively small attention by the international media. Of course, both the global media and public are in a slack period regarding news from Afghanistan. The fact that it had happened in a province that usually is far from major trends in the conflict, seemed to have made this neglect even easier. The later announcement by National Directorate of Security (NDS) about the Iranian identity of at least some of the attackers may renew interest in the story. AAN’s Fabrizio Foschini looks at the dynamic of the incident and the reaction of the Afghans in Nimruz and in Kabul.

On the borders: Where do the attacks in Nimruz come from?

The commuter of Alisheng: Death of a country district governor 

Author: Fabrizio Foschini

Date: 14 August 2012

The insurgent strategy of targeting rural government officials like woluswals (district governors) is not a new one, and it is gaining importance as the battle for contested areas becomes more acute. District governors cut a sometimes misunderstood figure in this war, as they are often portrayed as either old-times commanders or uninfluential pawns in somebody else’s hands. This is not always the case, of course. While mourning the death of one of them whom he had the honour to know, AAN’s Fabrizio Foschini recollects his impression of the hardships and the risks that his working environment involved, and which eventually led him to an untimely death.

The commuter of Alisheng: Death of a country district governor

Another Wedding Party Massacre: The death of Ahmad Khan (amended)

Author: Kate Clark

Date: 14 July 2012

Dozens of people have been killed and injured in a suicide attack on a wedding party in Samangan province. Among those killed was the father of the bride, the MP and former commander, Ahmad Khan Samangani, at least one of his sons and at least four other senior security and political officials. As this blog was posted, there had yet been no credible claim of responsibility. However, says AAN’s Kate Clark, Ahmad Khan’s background – as one of the most significant northern commanders fighting the Taleban during the late 1990s and early 2000s and as someone who still had clout in the province – made him, at the least, a potential attractive target for insurgents.

Another Wedding Party Massacre: The death of Ahmad Khan (amended)

 The attack in Kargha: Return of the Taleban Puritans?

Author: Thomas Ruttig

Date: 23 June 2012

In a rare night-time attack, Taleban gunmen stormed a popular lakeside resort. Kargha, in the outskirts of Kabul, with its ice cream parlours and pedalo boats is frequented by Afghans of all walks of life. Overnight on Thursday/Friday, the gunmen took a number of civilians hostage in the night to Friday. The action dragged on for twelve hours, after which all attackers and a number of civilian customers of the resort were dead. Thomas Ruttig, a Senior Analyst at AAN looks at what this attack on a purely civilian target signifies

The attack in Kargha: Return of the Taleban Puritans?

 Talking and Killing in Early 2012 

Author: Kate Clark

Date: 21 January 2012

A series of suicide attacks have left dozens of people killed and injured in the last few days in southern Afghanistan. There was inevitable carnage among civilians when suicide bombers blew themselves up in a crowded bazaar in Helmand on Wednesday (18 January) and at the entrance to the NATO base in Kandahar on Thursday. On the ISAF side, the war is also still full steam ahead, although its recent press releases have highlighted more (alleged) insurgents captured, than killed. That is good, writes Kate Clark – prisoners can survive a war, dead people cannot. And with talks now apparently a serious possibility, the need to find ways to end the bloodshed feels more urgent than ever.

Talking and Killing in Early 2012

 Ashura Attacks (1): Playing with Fire

Author: Kate Clark

Date: 6 December 2011

Attacks have targeted Shi’as in two of Afghanistan’s major cities as they gathered for Ashura, to lament the martyrdom of Imam Hussein and members of his family in Iraq in 680 AD. The attack in Kabul was particularly serious and left dozens dead. Such violence is a new phenomenon, says Kate Clark, deeply troubling and potentially very dangerous for Afghanistan, which has managed to avoid the sort of sectarian and indiscriminate attacks suffered by Pakistanis and Iraqis in recent years. At least, she says, all parties so far, including the Taleban, have condemned.

Ashura Attacks (1): Playing with Fire

 Ashura Attacks (3): A new type of violence in Afghanistan

Author: Fabrizio Foschini

Date: 7 December 2011

One of the last taboos of violence in Afghanistan was broken by yesterday’s suicide attacks on the Ashura commemoration in Kabul and Mazar-e Sharif. Historically, sectarian tensions or conflicts have occasionally been seen in Afghanistan, but they have usually been stirred up and leveraged by politics or war. Sectarian hatred has never enjoyed public recognition within the mainstream Afghan population. Tuesday’s attacks were different because there was no possible political justification for them and that, argues AAN’s Fabrizio Foschini, is even more frightening.

Ashura Attacks (3): A new type of violence in Afghanistan

 The Death of Rabbani

Author: Kate Clark

Date: 20 September 2011

One of the most senior Afghan leaders has been killed in a suicide bombing at his home in Kabul. Burhanuddin Rabbani was a founder and leading activist in the Afghan Islamist movement in the 1960s and 1970s, one of the seven leaders of the (Sunni) mujahedin parties in the 1980s and – at least formally – president for almost a decade. More recently, he has been an MP and chairman of the High Peace Council, charged with seeking to make peace with the Taleban. AAN senior analyst, Kate Clark assesses Rabbani’s life and what his death may mean for the prospects of peace.

The Death of Rabbani

Civilian Casualties 2: Taleban claims to protect civilians laid bare

Author: Kate Clark

Date: 27 July 2011

Accusations against the Taleban are becoming more pointed: their indiscriminate use of IEDs is a war crime, said UNAMA in its most recent mid-year report on civilian casualties, as well as violating a ban on land-mines made by Mulla Omar in 1998. The Taleban continues to insist its hands are clean, but, as AAN Senior Analyst, Kate Clark reports, with it and other armed opposition groups now responsible for 80 per cent of civilians deaths in the conflict, the question of how to encourage, persuade or threaten the Taleban to do more to protect civilians is becoming ever more urgent.

Civilian Casualties 2: Taleban claims to protect civilians laid bare

Looking at the Azra Hospital Attack

Author: Guests
Date: 5 July 2011

The suicide car-bomb attack that destroyed the civilian hospital of Logar’s eastern-most district Azra on 25 June was terrible even for Afghan standards, with now [amended: 29] registered dead and 53 wounded. Amongst the victims were reportedly 15 children waiting for immunisation as well as five toddlers; the 10-bed maternity ward completely destroyed. But the background of this attack is still blurred. Struggling with access problems to Azra, Thomas Ruttig and Fabrizio Foschini try to piece together parts of the puzzle (with material from Sharif Khoram and Gran Hewad).

Looking at the Azra Hospital Attack (amended)

The Layha: Calling the Taleban to Account (Special Report)

Author: Kate Clark

Date: 4 July 2011

This latest report by Kate Clark, Senior Analyst with the Afghanistan Analysts Network (AAN), discusses the Taleban Code of Conduct or the Layha. The latest Layha was issued a year ago, and the two previous in 2006 and 2009. Each new version of the Code has been longer, more detailed and more polished. The Layha is a rule book for the Taleban, but it is also an aspirational document, projecting an image of an Islamic and rule-bound jihad and a quasi-state.

The Layha: Calling the Taleban to Account

Killing Civilians: Taleban and International Law

Author: Kate Clark

Date: 23 May 2011

When the Taleban attacked the 400-bed military hospital in Kabul on 21 May 2011, they committed a gross violation of the international law that protects medical personnel during conflict. The Taleban spokesman heaped praise on those who attacked the hospital, even though, a few days earlier, he had been condemning the international military’s ‘crime against humanity’ of killing civilians in Takhar. AAN’s senior analyst, Kate Clark looks at how the Taleban use the language of ‘war crimes’ in their statements on civilian casualties and targeting, while all too often failing to protect civilians themselves.

Killing Civilians: Taleban and International Law

 Ten Dead in Badakhshan

Author: Kate Clark

Date: 8 August 2010

Among the party of Afghans and foreigners returning from holding an eye camp for communities in Nuristan and murdered on their way back in Badakhshan were several known to many in AAN. We grieve with their families and friends. Read an obituary by our Senior Analyst Kate Clark.

Ten Dead in Badakhshan (UPDATED)

Section 3: Civilian casualties and international and Afghan government forces

CIA-backed Afghan paramilitaries accused of grave abuses: new Human Rights Watch report

Author: Kate Clark

Date: 31 October 2019

Human Rights Watch has released a hard-hitting report about CIA-backed Afghan paramilitaries which documents their alleged involvement in extrajudicial executions, enforced disappearances and attacks on medical facilities. The report also details changes in the United States targeting rules which, Human Rights Watch says, have led to indiscriminate airstrikes being called in by these forces, causing disproportionate harm to civilians. AAN’s Kate Clark, who has investigated some of these potential war crimes herself, has been reading the report.

CIA-backed Afghan paramilitaries accused of grave abuses: new Human Rights Watch report

“Murder Is Always”: The Kulalgo night raid killings

Author: Thomas Ruttig and AAN Team

Date: 17 August 2019

On the night of 11 and 12 August, what seems to have been a mixed US-Afghan commando raided several homes in Kulalgo, a large village in Zurmat district, Paktia. Eleven people were killed, civilians who had nothing to do with the insurgency, according to family members and local elders. They were ‘Taleban’ according to official sources. After protests and petitions, the authorities have said they are investigating the killings. AAN’s Thomas Ruttig and several AAN colleagues have spoken to relatives, elders, officials and other sources in the area and compiled the following picture of what could amount to a new war crime committed by units effectively led by US military forces, probably the CIA (with input from Kate Clark and Sayed Asadullah Sadat).

“Murder Is Always”: The Kulalgo night raid killings

Khost Protection Force Accused of Fresh Killings: Six men shot dead in Zurmat

Author: Kate Clark

Date: 21 January 2019

There has been a fresh attack on civilians by armed men whom the victims’ family and the Paktia provincial governor’s spokesman have said were from the Khost Protection Force, an irregular militia supported by the CIA. A survivor of the attack carried out in Surkai village in Zurmat district, in Paktia province, described to AAN how five men in his family, including three university students, and a neighbour, were summarily executed and how he was questioned by an American in uniform accompanying the Afghan gunmen. The Paktia governor’s spokesman has also confirmed that ‘foreign troops’ were involved in the operation (and the US military spokesman has said the US military was not involved). As AAN Co-Director, Kate Clark, reports, the incident raises yet again the unaccountability of such forces and the impunity with which they act. It also raises the question of motive – this particular family was a bulwark against Haqqani influence in Zurmat.

Khost Protection Force Accused of Fresh Killings: Six men shot dead in Zurmat

Were British Police Involved in Targeted Killings? New report presents fresh evidence

Author: Kate Clark

Date: 11 April 2016

The allegation that a British civilian policing body, the Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA), helped draw up lists of Afghans for targeted killings in ISAF’s ‘kill or capture’ strategy in Afghanistan has re-surfaced. Two years ago, SOCA denied to a London court that it had supplied such intelligence for targeted killings in a case brought by an Afghan man, Habib Rahman. He had lost two brothers, two uncles and his father-in-law – all civilians – in a targeted killing in 2010. AAN’s Kate Clark has been examining the new evidence against SOCA and looking at what it might mean for the family members of those killed in the 2010 attack.

Were British Police Involved in Targeted Killings? New report presents fresh evidence

The ANSF’s Zurmat Operation: Abuses against local civilians

Author: Fazal Muzhary

Date: 4 March 2016

In early January 2016, an Afghan National Security Force (ANSF) operation in Zurmat, a southern district of Paktia province, resulted in civilian casualties. According to local residents, the Afghan National Army (ANA) soldiers’ heavy shelling of villages they suspected to be Taleban hideouts caused the most harm. Abuses, such as beatings and the use of schools and civilian houses for military purposes, were also reported. AAN’s Fazal Muzhary looks into reports of abuses – both by the ANSF and the Taleban – during the January operation as a case study of the increased threat to civilians during military operations, and also of how difficult it can be to ascertain what happened.

The ANSF’s Zurmat Operation: Abuses against local civilians

 MSF Investigation: US hospital strike looking more like a war crime

Author: Kate Clark

Date: 10 November 2015

A preliminary investigation by Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) into the United States airstrike on its hospital in Kunduz on 3 October, which killed at least 30 people, has raised some serious questions. Fresh evidence suggests statements made by US officials in the first few days after the attack were false. It also makes clear how difficult it would have been for the US military, as its commander in Afghanistan, General John F Campbell, claimed, to have hit the hospital “mistakenly.” These are questions which the US must answer, if it is to escape the accusation that it committed a war crime. The case also draws attention to a blurring of lines between NATO’s non-combat and the US military’s more shadowy counter-terrorism missions and how dangerous this may be for humanitarians and other civilians. As the US prepares its own report on the strike, Campbell’s room for manoeuvre to explain away the attack appears to be diminishing, as AAN Country Director Kate Clark reports.

MSF Investigation: US hospital strike looking more like a war crime

Airstrike on a Hospital in Kunduz: Claims of a war crime

Author: Kate Clark

Date: 7 October 2015

Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) is now demanding an International Humanitarian Fact-Finding Commission look into the United States air strike which hit its hospital in Kunduz in the early hours of Saturday morning (3 October 2015). 12 MSF staff and 10 patients, including three children, were killed in the strike which came four days into fierce fighting between Afghan forces supported by their US allies, and the Taleban. MSF has alleged the attack was deliberate, saying, “We are working on the presumption of a war crime.” The commander of US and NATO forces in Afghanistan, General John F Campbell, has admitted “a hospital was mistakenly struck.” AAN’s Kate Clark has been trying to make sense of the different narratives coming out about the strike and looking into the war crime allegation (with input from Fazal Muzhary).

Airstrike on a Hospital in Kunduz: Claims of a war crime

The Incident at Coordinate 42S VF 8934 5219: German court rejects claim from Kunduz airstrike victims

Author: Thomas Ruttig

Date: 15 December 2013

A district court in the former West German capital Bonn has rejected a case in connection with a lethal airstrike ordered by the commander of the German PRT in Kunduz province four years ago. Families of some of the dozens of victims and a German lawyer of Afghan origin had wanted to sue the German government for compensation, arguing that Colonel (now General) Georg Klein had broken official regulations and therefore the German government was liable for the deaths and injuries caused. If the claimants had been successful, it would have created a precedent and Berlin – and possibly other governments – could have faced similar claims in other cases. The court, however, ruled, on 11 December 2013, that Colonel Klein had not violated any existing regulations to protect civilians from being harmed. It also agreed with the view of the defendant – the German Defence Ministry – that Klein, in his position as PRT commander, was under the command of the NATO-led ISAF mission and not acting solely on behalf of Berlin. The claimants’ lawyer said they intend to appeal. Thomas Ruttig reports (with input from Kate Clark).

The Incident at Coordinate 42S VF 8934 5219: German court rejects claim from Kunduz air strike victims

 The Nerkh Killings: The problem with ‘immunity’ for US soldiers

Author: Kate Clark

Date: 14 November 2013

Revelations concerning the alleged involvement of US soldiers in the forced disappearance, murder and torture of Afghans in the Nerkh district of Wardak a year ago keep surfacing. The US insists its forces come only under US legal jurisdiction, that they are ‘immune’ from Afghan courts and that it will investigate any wrongdoing by its forces. This non-negotiable demand is due to be debated at a consultative loya jirga on the Bilateral Security Agreement in just over a week’s time. Yet the Nerkh case and others show just how poor the US military and the CIA are at investigating the crimes of their own, especially when it comes to command responsibility. To date, no officer has been prosecuted for authorising crimes or failing to stop a junior committing a crime. AAN Senior Analyst, Kate Clark, reports.

The Nerkh Killings: The problem with ‘immunity’ for US soldiers

What exactly is the CIA doing in Afghanistan? Proxy militias and two airstrikes in Kunar

Author: Kate Clark

Date: 28 April 2013

AAN has discovered that the NATO airstrike on Kunar on 13 April 2013 which killed as many as 17 civilians was the second strike on almost the same location to have been requested by the same mixed Afghan/CIA force. President Karzai’s spokesman has reported the president’s assertion – and anger – that the Afghan unit involved was part of the NDS in name only and is actually under CIA control. Last week, President Karzai’s spokesman reported the president’s assertion – and anger – that the paramilitary unit of the NDS involved in the operation is actually under CIA control. After the earlier strike on 7 February in which nine civilians were killed, the president banned Afghan forces from calling in NATO air strikes on residential areas. His accusation that the CIA is running militias will hardly be news to anyone following the war, but it is highly significant – the first time the issue has been spoken about so publically. Putting the spotlight on the work of the agency, says AAN senior analyst Kate Clark is a good thing. Its record in Afghanistan is, at best, dubious and its lack of accountability deeply problematic.

What exactly is the CIA doing in Afghanistan? Proxy militias and two airstrikes in Kunar

Trying to Control the Uncontrolled: the NSC’s decision on Wardak

Author: Martine van Bijlert

Date: 26 February 2013

Months of reported abuses in Wardak by armed groups and individuals apparently linked to a US Special Operations base, and the failure of ISAF to take responsibility or to adequately respond, has led the National Security Council to announce that all US Special Operations Forces are to be removed from Wardak within two weeks. Although it is yet unclear to what extent the Afghan government intends the decision to be actually implemented, it is part of a wider push towards greater control and a stronger position within the partnership. AAN’s Martine van Bijlert takes a closer look, in five snapshots, at what the decision tells us.

Trying to Control the Uncontrolled: the NSC’s decision on Wardak

 The Civilian Casualty Tightrope: Karzai Bans ANSF Calling in ‘Foreign’ Airstrikes on Villages

Author: Gary Owen

Date: 17 February 2013

In a blistering speech on 16 February 2013, President Hamed Karzai called requests to foreigners by Afghan security forces for airstrikes on Afghan villages ‘shameful’.(1) His office said that tomorrow, he will issue a decree formally banning requests for strikes on what is being described in the English press as ‘residential areas’. The president’s move follows last week’s airstrike in Kunar that reportedly killed about a dozen civilians, among them children. In previous times, Karzai could have blamed foreign forces for the deaths. But now, in keeping with protocols established between ISAF and Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF), the airstrike was not conducted unilaterally, but was requested by Afghan forces themselves. This creates political and military complications for the president. However, report AAN guest blogger, Gary Owen and AAN senior analyst, Kate Clark, banning ISAF airstrikes is likely to make it more dangerous for the ANSF and may not lead to fewer civilians being killed.

The Civilian Casualty Tightrope: Karzai Bans ANSF Calling in ‘Foreign’ Airstrikes on Villages

General Allen Leaves with an Improved Report Card on Civilian Casualties and Torture

Author: Kate Clark

Date: 10 February 2013

Today, 10 February 2012, the commander of ISAF and US forces in Afghanistan, General John Allen, leaves after a year and a half in the job. ‘When I got here,’ he told The New York Times, ‘I measured success in how well and how often we were fighting. Today, it’s a very different environment. The Afghans are virtually entirely in the lead across Afghanistan.’ (1) AAN’s senior AAN analyst, Kate Clark, has been measuring General Allen’s record on how well he has mitigated suffering in the war, in particular when it comes to reducing civilian casualties and dealing with ISAF’s Afghan allies when they torture detainees. She also looks ahead to how the Afghan state may end up dealing with these thorny issues, as Afghan forces increasingly take on the war against the Taleban

General Allen Leaves with an Improved Report Card on Civilian Casualties and Torture

Death of an Uruzgan journalist: Command Errors and Collateral Damage (Special Report)

Author: Kate Clark

Date: 25 April 2012

An investigation into the fatal shooting of an Afghan journalist by a US soldier raises critical questions about the safety of local reporters working in the field, and the need for greater honesty by ISAF when operations go wrong, according to a new report by AAN’s senior analyst, Kate Clark.

Death of an Uruzgan journalist: Command Errors and Collateral Damage

The Kandahar Killing: With friends like this…

Author: Thomas Ruttig

Date: 12 March 2012

After the killing of 16 Afghan civilians by a US soldier in Kandahar province, Western military and political officials have – duly – apologised again but also called the incident ‘rogue’, a ‘first time’ or a ‘completely out-of-the-ordinary’ event. Thomas Ruttig, a Senior Analyst at AAN, wonders whether this is the case or whether it might be the freak, but somehow unavoidable outcome in a context of escalated violence, thinking in ‘friend-or-foe’ categories, traumatisation – and a result of a misguided policy.

The Kandahar Killing: With friends like this… (amended)

Civilian Casualties 1: Progress in the war or a ‘perpetually escalating stalemate’?

Author: Kate Clark

Date: 21 July 2011

General Petraeus has handed over command of ISAF and US forces in Afghanistan, with talk of progress – albeit fragile and with ‘tough times’ ahead. His confidence was belied by reports or statements on the human cost of the war from three respected international institutions working in Afghanistan over the past week: ICRC said, ‘insecurity is at a critical level for civilians’; UNAMA described the intensified conflict bringing ‘increasingly grim impacts’ to civilians and ANSO, which since the start of the ‘surge’ two years ago has monitored a 119 per cent rise in attacks by armed opposition groups, describes the conflict as a ‘perpetually-escalating stalemate’ (links to all three reports are below). In the first of two blogs, AAN senior analyst, Kate Clark looks at these reports in relation to the US/ISAF war effort.

Civilian Casualties 1: Progress in the war or a ‘perpetually escalating stalemate’?

Talking about Civilian Casualties in Kabul (with comment)

Author: Thomas Ruttig

Date: 3 July 2011

Last week, on 28 June, ISAF Kabul had invited for a half-day conference on the issue of civilian casualties. The attendance, at least during the first hour, was high-ranking, with Gen. David Petraeus, NATO SCR Simon Gass, NSC chairman Rangin Dadfar Spanta and deputy speakers of both houses of the Afghan parliament. They all left before they could hear what those they meant to consult with had to say, and missed some good points. In the end, Thomas Ruttig and Susanne Schmeidl* left somewhat confused.

Talking about Civilian Casualties in Kabul (with comment)

Kill or Capture 3: When the International Military Says ‘Sorry’

Author: Kate Clark

Date: 31 May 2011

President Karzai has said he will no longer allow NATO airstrikes on houses because they are causing too many civilian casualties. The president’s ultimatum follows the pictures shown on Afghan TV on 29 May of distraught villagers in Helmand carrying the bruised and dusty corpses of their small children who had been killed in an air strike on 28 May. The following day, ISAF apologized, although it insisted its forces had been targeting a house from which insurgents had been firing. The deaths of children and women, whether in air strikes or night raids, usually bring prompt apologies from ISAF, but it seems many other cases are simply never admitted to. Not all allegations of civilian casualties are true, says AAN senior analyst, Kate Clark. But neither are all denials.

Kill or Capture 3: When the International Military Says ‘Sorry’

 Kill or Capture 2: Another Takhar Night Raid Fans Ethnic Discontent

Author: Kate Clark

Date: 25 May 2011

The repercussions of a night raid by US Special Forces and Afghan police, which left two men, a woman and a girl dead in Takhar a week ago (whether they were civilians or insurgents, depends on whose version of events you believe) are still being played out. The provincial council has gone on strike in protest at the raid and the subsequent killing of demonstrators at the PRT. Government officials and ‘opposition’ figures alike are complaining that the raid and/or the demonstration were the result of political manoeuvrings and ethnic discrimination. Meanwhile, the security ministers have been summoned to appear before the parliament’s lower house today to answer questions about this and other recent deadly operations, including a Taleban attack on labourers in Paktia. AAN senior analyst, Kate Clark has been looking into it all.

Kill or Capture 2: Another Takhar Night Raid Fans Ethnic Discontent

Kill or Capture 1: Owning up to civilian casualties

Author: Kate Clark

Date: 17 May 2011

US Special Forces carry out the vast majority of night raids and targeted killings in Afghanistan, but it is ISAF – through its media office – which deals with any news or fall-out arising from them. In responses to questions by journalists about AAN’s latest report about a case of intelligence failures and targeted killing in Takhar province, the ISAF public affairs team has resolutely avoided responding to the real issue: that US Special forces killed ten civilians in a targeted killing last September, without carrying out the most basic background checks on the target beforehand, and that the person they claim to have killed is still very much alive. The author of the report, AAN senior analyst, Kate Clark, assesses the military’s reaction

Kill or Capture 1: Owning up to civilian casualties

The Takhar attack: Targeted killings and the parallel worlds of US intelligence and Afghanistan (Special Report)

Author: Kate Clark

Date: 10 May 2011

This latest AAN thematic report gives a detailed account of the intelligence failings which led US Special Forces to kill a former Taleban commander called Zabet Amanullah, who had laid down his arms in 2001. ISAF however claimed the attack killed the Taleban shadow deputy governor of Takhar who they alleged was also a member of the IMU, one Muhammad Amin. Although the evidence to the contrary is overwhelming, the military still maintain that the two were one and the same, and that they killed the right person. The report is unique in its scope and detail. The author has been able to interview survivors, witnesses, police, senior Afghan officials – and, crucially, also senior officers in the Special Forces unit which carried out the attack. Even the Taleban commander who was believed to have died in the attack was located and interviewed in Pakistan. This makes the Takhar attack a highly significant case study. One of the main findings of the report is how dependency on signals intelligence, especially the monitoring of phone usage to build up a picture of insurgent networks, can lead to civilian deaths and the possibility of grave violations of the laws of war – in particular when this is acted on in the virtual absence of human intelligence.

The Takhar attack: Targeted killings and the parallel worlds of US intelligence and Afghanistan

Because the Night Belongs to Raiders: Special ops in Nangrahar

Author: Fabrizio Foschini

Date: 10 January 2011

The first days of 2011 have already been dotted with reports of renewed night raids by US special forces turning lethal for civilians, as the ones in Ghazni and Kunduz apparently were. The resentment these operations stir up among Afghans countrywide seems likely to wipe out any possible military benefit deriving from them. The negative impact on public attitudes towards Coalition forces has been widely recognized. Nonetheless, everything indicates they will feature prominently in this year’s military operations, as AAN’s analyst Fabrizio Foschini realised during a recent visit to Nangrahar.

Hollow Excuses

Author: Thomas Ruttig

Date: 12 September 2009

We apologize. It was a mistake. We regret the loss of innocent life.’ How often have I heard these sentences after operations of NATO troops had caused – what a horrible trivialisation – ‘collateral damage’. … for the first time on this scale, a German has ordered such a fateful airstrike. Scores of people have been burnt alive in Aliabad district after two fuel tankers abducted by Taleban were bombed by NATO planes early Friday night, 4 September.

Hollow Excuses

Section 4: Civilians killed and injured by unknown or various attackers

Speculation Abounding: Trying to make sense of the attacks against Shias in Herat city

Author: S Reza Kazemi

Date: 3 February 2019

Herat – the generally safe and prosperous city in western Afghanistan – has seen a series of attacks against Shia religious figures and sites, especially since 2016. Fieldwork shows there is little empirical evidence as to who the perpetrators are or why they carried out these attacks. Based on conversations with Shia and Sunni activists, AAN researcher Said Reza Kazemi reviews the incidents, puts them in the context of Herat’s changing population and presents the main different theories as to who and what is behind them. Specifically, he discusses an increasing rivalry between Shia and Sunni hardliners at the local level and the linkages to regional developments, including the war in Syria and the broader Iranian-Saudi rivalry. He notes that, at least in the foreseeable future, existing Shia-Sunni solidarity in Herat makes sectarian conflict there very unlikely.

Speculation Abounding: Trying to make sense of the attacks against Shias in Herat city

Clinics under fire? Health workers caught up in the Afghan conflict

Author: Kate Clark

Date: 15 March 2016

Those providing health care in contested areas in Afghanistan say they are feeling under increasing pressure from all sides in the war. There have been two egregious attacks on medical facilities in the last six months: the summary execution of two patients and a carer taken from a clinic in Wardak by Afghan special forces in mid-February – a clear war crime – and the United States bombing of the Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) hospital in Kunduz in October 2015, which left dozens dead and injured – an alleged war crime. Health professionals have told AAN of other violations, by both pro and anti-government forces. Perhaps most worryingly, reports AAN Country Director Kate Clark, have been comments by government officials, backing or defending the attacks on the MSF hospital and Wardak clinic.

Clinics under fire? Health workers caught up in the Afghan conflict

Killing Mullahs and Wedding Guests, Banning Last Rites: the worsening Andar conflict

Author: Emal Habib

Date: 6 November 2013

Violence within Ghazni’s Andar district has become increasingly savage in recent months. The roadside bomb which killed 19 people, mostly women, as they drove to a wedding on 27 October rightly caught the world’s headlines. Beyond that though, Andar has seen an escalation in killings and threats and even bans on giving last rights and burying the ‘enemy’. AAN guest writer, Emal Habib, looks at the further unraveling of last year’s Andar ‘uprising’ and says what we are now seeing is a conflict only just short of intra-communal violence.

Killing Mullahs and Wedding Guests, Banning Last Rites: the worsening Andar conflict

Talking and Killing in Early 2012

Author: Kate Clark

Date: 21 January 2012

A series of suicide attacks have left dozens of people killed and injured in the last few days in southern Afghanistan. There was inevitable carnage among civilians when suicide bombers blew themselves up in a crowded bazaar in Helmand on Wednesday (18 January) and at the entrance to the NATO base in Kandahar on Thursday. On the ISAF side, the war is also still full steam ahead, although its recent press releases have highlighted more (alleged) insurgents captured, than killed. That is good, writes Kate Clark – prisoners can survive a war, dead people cannot. And with talks now apparently a serious possibility, the need to find ways to end the bloodshed feels more urgent than ever.

Talking and Killing in Early 2012

Losing people in Afghanistan

Author: Martine van Bijlert

Date: 11 September 2010

Living in Afghanistan means losing people. It’s a steady trickle. Usually not close enough to uproot your life, but there are all these people whom you have gotten to know over the years, whom you have become fond of, who you have to admire for how they managed to preserve sanity and dignity and humour, who you enjoy listening to and talking to. And now they’re gone.

Losing people in Afghanistan

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