April 24 UPI -- Despite an overall decrease in the number of civilian casualties in Afghanistan , pro-Afghan government and international military forces were responsible for more civilian deaths in the first quarter of than the Taliban and the Islamic State , according to a new United Nations report. From Jan. The report attributed deaths to the Afghan National Security Forces, to international military forces, 41 to pro-government armed groups and 30 to multiple pro-government forces.
For the anti-government side, the report attributed civilian deaths to the Taliban, 43 deaths to the Islamic State and 11 to undetermined anti-government elements. Meanwhile, the U. Overall, the number of civilian casualties in Afghanistan decreased by 23 percent year-on-year to 1, during the first quarter of , hitting its lowest mark for the first quarter since It said that drop in the number of civilian casualties was largely driven by a reduction in civilians killed in suicide attacks, saying there were 76 percent fewer casualties from such attacks on-year. An unusually harsh winter may have contributed to the reduction, by making suicide attacks more logistically challenging, the UN said.
It was unclear whether ongoing peace talks, or any initiatives to reduce harm to civilians, had an impact. Pro-government forces caused civilian deaths, and opposition fighters deaths.
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Another 49 deaths were caused by crossfire or could not be attributed. The casualty tolls from pro-government airstrikes and search raids were the highest for any quarter since the UN began keeping records, the report said.
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The UN recorded 18 instances in which schools were targeted, the majority by Taliban or other insurgents. There were also two dozen attacks on healthcare, again the majority carried out by Taliban. In six incidents in the east, 88 clinics were closed and three medical personnel abducted, although they were later released and most clinics reopened. ISAF also shifted its stance on public information, refraining from issuing immediate statements on particular incidents.
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This allowed for a more thorough review of incidents and conclusions, based on a cross-section of insights. The focus on bringing down the casualty rate facilitated structured interaction with pro-government forces and also changed the tone and nature of the dialogue on measures to prevent avoidable harm to civilians.
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In September , ISAF issued a Tactical Directive that limited the use of air strikes in particular circumstances in order to minimise risk to civilians. Subsequent Tactical Directives and the revised counter-insurgency doctrine, enunciated by General Stanley McChrystal, then overall commander for most international forces in Afghanistan, reinforced the importance of prioritising the protection of civilians.
At the same time, however, Special Forces operations increased significantly in Their search and seizure operations tend to be conducted under the cover of darkness and their chain of command is unclear as some are involved in counter-terrorism rather than counter-insurgency activities and do not report to the ISAF Commander.
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This lack of transparency greatly inhibits public scrutiny and, by extension, efforts to influence Special Forces operations. The armed opposition has been responsible for a growing proportion, and the largest number, of civilian deaths since the insurgency took hold in Nonetheless, it has been able, to a significant extent, to avoid censure among Afghans for the civilian deaths resulting from its military activities.
The Taliban are however not immune to public perceptions and criticism.
They have routinely issued fatwas , or edicts, to their fighters enjoining them to limit the number of civilian casualties they cause. They have also taken steps to warn villagers not to use particular routes. In a meeting I had with elders from Marjah in March , shortly after pro-government forces launched an operation to retake the area, there was no disagreement with the proposal that the widespread use of improvised explosive devices IEDs by the Taliban presented a deadly threat to civilians, and that better precautionary measures were needed. The Taliban had advanced similar ideas previously, pointing to their concern about their association with the growing number of war deaths, the highest proportion of which are the result of suicide attacks and IEDs.
A multitude of factors shape the scale and nature of warfare in Afghanistan.
However, as the issue of civilian deaths has acquired strategic significance, belligerents, mindful of public perceptions, have taken efforts to protect civilian lives. Thus, while civilian deaths continue to increase, they have done so at a slower pace than the increase in conflict-related incidents. It indicates that increased awareness of, and public debate on, the toll on civilians in the most recent phase of the war has been instrumental in the use of military tactics that have, in some instances, avoided civilian deaths. This highlights the importance of protection initiatives in explaining and exposing circumstances and trends that pose harm to civilians.
Afghanistan shows that the more advocacy work is able to draw on credible evidence, the more likely it is that it will prove protective.
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Afghanistan also highlights the importance of maximising synergies between humanitarian and human rights entities concerned with protection, and doing so within a humanitarian framework and in a manner that does not impact on humanitarian space or access. Norah Niland is currently on sabbatical from the UN having completed her most recent assignment in in Afghanistan, where she was director of human rights in UNAMA.
Missing Attachment. Humanitarian space in Afghanistan and Pakistan.