UN reports record number of civilian casualties in Afghanistan

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Increased fighting between government troops and insurgents in Afghanistan in 2015 contributed to the highest number of civilian casualties since the United Nations began tracking civilian casualties in the war-torn nation in 2009.

Overall, 3,545 civilians were killed and 7,457 were injured, marking a 4-percent increase in casualties from 2014, according to a recently released U.N. report.

“This report records yet another rise in the number of civilians hurt or killed,” Nicholas Haysom, the secretary general’s special representative for Afghanistan and head of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), said in a statement. “The harm done to civilians is totally unacceptable. We call on those inflicting this pain on the people of Afghanistan to take concrete action to protect civilians and put a stop to the killing and maiming of civilians in 2016.”

Deaths were actually down 4 percent from 2014, but injuries were up 9 percent, according to the report.

Most of the casualties happened when civilians were caught in the crossfire during ground engagements by pro-government forces and the Taliban or other anti-government forces.

Fighting in Kunduz, which the Taliban temporarily captured last fall, caused civilian casualties to double in northeastern Afghanistan, with 1,978 in 2015, compared to 929 in 2014.

One in four of 2015’s casualties were children, and one in 10 were women, the U.N. said.

“Unprecedented numbers of children were needlessly killed and injured last year — one in four casualties in 2015 was a child,” Danielle Bell, UNAMA director of human rights, said in a statement. “Other children suffered the loss of parents, and increasingly their mothers, sisters, and female role models — one in 10 casualties was a woman.”

Insurgents caused most of the casualties in 2015, though 17 percent were attributed to pro-government forces. Another 4 percent could definitively not be attributed to either.

The report also highlighted a “new, disturbing trend” of punishments of women accused of moral crimes during the conflict. Five women and one girl were executed, while two women and one girl were physically punished.

By comparison, in 2014, the U.N. found one instance where a man and woman were executed for a moral crime, according to the report.