Life – Terror. Ecstasy. Fight. Denial. Flight. Failure. PAIN. Forgiveness. Reconciliation. Hope. Love. Peace – Death.
The Cost of Inaction – The Afghanistan Humanitarian Crisis
Since the war against the Taliban began in 2001, there have been more than 3,500 coalition deaths, of which more than 2,300 have been US soldiers. A further 20,660 US soldiers have been injured in action.
More than 450 UK troops have died….., for what?
These casualty figures, difficult as they are, are dwarfed by the loss of life among Afghan security forces and civilians. President Ghani said in 2019 that more than 45,000 members of the Afghan security forces had been killed since he became president five years earlier.
Brown University’s research in 2019 estimated the loss of life amongst the national military and police in Afghanistan to be more than 64,100 since October 2001, when the war began.
My previous post War = Profit specifically examined the financial costs of the war in Afghanistan, the stratospheric costs of military equipment that has generated unfathomable profits for a small chattel of arms dealers (manufacturers) during the past 20 years. Some, of which was generated, as ‘parting gifts’ from the seemingly, limitless US war-chest, as late as just 1 month prior to the ‘planned’ withdrawal.
The financial costs are only part of this tragedy. The scale of the real tragedy, the previous and continuing, rapidly unfolding, humanitarian crisis, in the wake of an uncompromising US withdrawal is very much ongoing and yet to be fully witnessed.
And according to the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (Unama), nearly 111,000 civilians have been killed or injured since it began systematically recording civilian casualties in 2009.
Civilian casualties in Afghanistan witnessed a sharp rise since ‘peace’ negotiations started in September last year, even though overall deaths and injuries dropped in 2020, compared to the previous year, according to a UN human rights report.
In their annual Afghanistan Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict Annual Report, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and the UN Assistance Mission in the country (UNAMA) documented some 8,820 civilian casualties (3,035 deaths and 5,785 injuries) in 2020, about 15 per cent less than in 2019.
The country remains amongst the “deadliest places in the world to be a civilian”, according to Michelle Bachelet, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.
“I am particularly appalled by the high numbers of human rights defenders, journalists, and media workers killed since peace negotiations began in September”, she said.
At least 11 rights defenders, journalists and media workers lost their lives since September, resulting in many professionals exercising self-censorship in their work, quitting their jobs, and even leaving their homes and the country – in hope it will improve their safety.
Rise in ‘targeted killings’
The overall drop in civilian casualties in 2020 was due to fewer casualties from suicide attacks by anti-Government elements in populated areas, as well as drop in casualties attributed to international military forces.
There was, however, a “worrying rise” in targeted killings by such elements – up about 45 per cent over 2019. The use of pressure-plate improvised explosive devices (IEDs) by the Taliban, air strikes by the Afghan Air Force, and ground engagements also resulted in increased casualties, the report said.
According to the report, anti-Government elements bore responsibility for about 62 per cent civilian casualties, while pro-Government forces were responsible for about 25 per cent casualties. About 13 per cent of casualties were attributed to crossfire and other incidents.
2020 could have been ‘a year of peace’
Deborah Lyons, Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Afghanistan and head of UNAMA, called on all parties to take immediate and concrete action to protect civilians, urging them “not to squander a single day in taking the urgent steps to avoid more suffering”.
“2020 could have been the year of peace in Afghanistan. Instead, thousands of Afghan civilians perished due to the conflict”, Ms. Lyons said.
The “overriding objective” of the report is to provide the parties responsible with the facts, and recommendations, so they take immediate and concrete steps to protect civilians, she added.
Ms. Lyons highlighted that “ultimately, the best way to protect civilians is to establish a humanitarian ceasefire” – a call consistently made by Secretary-General António Guterres and the Security Council.
“Parties refusing to consider a ceasefire must recognize the devastating consequences of such a posture on the lives of Afghan civilians.”
‘Shocking toll’ on women and children
The report went on to note that the years-long conflict in Afghanistan “continues to wreak a shocking and detrimental toll” on women and children, who accounted for 43 per cent of all civilian casualties – 30 per cent children and 13 per cent women.
“This report shows the acute, lasting needs of victims of the armed conflict and demonstrates how much remains to be done to meet those needs in a meaningful way”, High Commissioner Bachelet said.
“The violence that has brought so much pain and suffering to the Afghan population for decades must stop and steps towards reaching a lasting peace must continue.”
Attacking civilians ‘serious violations’
With the conflict continuing, parties must do more to prevent and mitigate civilian casualties, the report said, urging them to fully implement the report’s recommendations and to ensure that respect and protection of human rights is central to the ongoing peace negotiations.
It also reminded the parties that deliberately attacking civilians or civilian objects are serious violations of international humanitarian law that may amount to war crimes.
THE CURRENT SITUATION IN AFGHANISTAN
Forty years of war, recurrent natural disasters, chronic poverty and the COVID-19 pandemic continue to be a deadly combination for people in Afghanistan. Nearly half of the population (some 18.4m people) are in need of humanitarian and protection assistance in 2021.
More than one third of people are facing crisis or emergency levels of food insecurity and nearly half of all children under-five are expected to face acute malnutrition in 2021. Needs are being further compounded by emerging threats such as drought conditions and escalation of conflict, with some 13.2 million people anticipated to have immediate needs during the spring alone. Protection and safety risks to civilians, particularly women, children and people with a disability, are also on the rise.
SITUATION AT A GLANCE
At least 17,600 people have fled to Kabul since early July, amid thousands of displacements across the country
18.4 MILLION People in Afghanistan Requiring Humanitarian Assistance in 2021
UN – December 2020
14.5 MILLION People Projected to Require Emergency Health Services in 2021
UN – December 2020
550,780 People Displaced by Conflict During 2021
UN – August 2021
28,014 People Affected by Natural Disasters During 2021
UN – August 2021
737,039 Total Undocumented Returnees to Afghanistan in 2021
UN – August 2021
Thanks for Reading