Afghanistan: UN reports increased civilian casualties in 2013

A report by the United Nations found total casualties in Afghanistan rose 14 percent in 2013, and cited a 'alarming' increase in women and children casualties. The single biggest killer remains bombs in public places.

War took an increasing toll on Afghanistan's civilians in 2013 as fighting intensified between the government and insurgents, the United Nations said in a report on Saturday, with total casualties rising 14 percent.

The gradual withdrawal of foreign troops has left Afghan government forces more vulnerable to attack by insurgents, and the resulting battles helped account for last year's rise in casualties, according to the report.

"The new trend in 2013 of increased civilian casualties from ground engagements, including the alarming increase in women and children casualties, reflected the changing dynamics of the conflict over the year," the United Nations said.

Last year was the worst for women and children since 2009, with the number killed or injured by the conflict increasing by more than one-third from 2012.

About 27 percent of all 2013 casualties stemmed from fighting between the government and insurgents, and most of these could not be attributed to one side.

"This 'fog of war' dynamic reflects the changed nature of the conflict in Afghanistan in 2013 which was increasingly being waged in civilian communities and populated areas," the United Nations said.

The biggest single killer remained improvised explosive devices (IEDs), or bombs, detonated by insurgents in public areas such as markets, roads and government buildings. Bombs accounted for about one-third of the total civilian toll, which the United Nations put at 2,959 deaths and 5,656 injured.

While both sides in the conflict were responsible for the increase in casualties last year, the United Nationsattributed about three-quarters of the toll to the Taliban.

"Statements on protecting civilians by the Taliban leadership are not nearly enough to end the killing and injuring of innocent Afghan civilians," said U.N. Special Representative Ján Kubi in a statement.

"What is needed is for the Taliban to stop deliberately attacking civilians and using IEDS indiscriminately." 


International forces, who have handed over responsibility for security to the Afghans in preparation for their withdrawal by the end of this year, and say they participate only in joint operations, caused about 3 percent of casualties, according to the report.

While these make up only a fraction of the total casualties, air strikes causing civilian deaths or injuries are a major source of tension between President Hamid Karzai and the United States.

The U.N. report said that in 2013, there were 54 aerial operations that resulted in civilian casualties. While this was a 10 percent drop from the number of such cases in 2012, women and children accounted for nearly half of casualties.

Of the 54 cases, 19 were by unmanned aerial vehicles. The number of civilian victims from these so-called drone strikes more than tripled from 2012, the United Nations said.

The United Nations said there was a sharp increase in incidents perpetrated by a security force known as the Afghan Local Police (ALP), set up in 2010 to operate in remote, insecure areas.

Throughout 2013, the U.N. mission in Afghanistan "documented incidents where ALP carried out serious human rights violations with impunity which were often enabled by provincial or national level power-brokers", the report said.

ALP-linked casualties tripled, the United Nations said, and included summary executions, punishments and acts of revenge.

These were conducted with impunity, it appeared, as the United Nations was unable to find any information on prosecutions, suspensions or other action taken despite some 100 cases having been reported to the authorities.

On the positive side, the United Nations said many communities reported that they owed an improvement in security to the police. 

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to