Tue 22 June 2021

As the United States withdraws from the country, its forces have relied on aerial bombardments, with devastating consequences for the civilian population

Of the 3,977 civilian casualties from airstrikes in Afghanistan between 2016 and 2020, 1,598 were children, new analysis from the non-profit group Action On Armed Violence (AOAV) has revealed.

The data shows that 2,122 civilians have been killed by US and Afghan airstrikes over the last five years, and 1,855 have been injured. 785 (37%) of those killed and 813 (44%) of those injured were children.

The statistics also show that the majority – 1,309 (62%) – of civilian deaths from airstrikes during this period were caused by international forces.

New US President Joe Biden has announced that American troops are expected to leave Afghanistan in September this year, a decade after the start of a war that has also cost the lives of thousands of British and American military personnel.

AOVA points out that, due to the dwindling of ground troops in recent years, the NATO operation – in alliance with the Afghan Government – has become increasingly reliant on aerial operations. However, while this form of attack demands less manpower, it also has a potentially deadly impact on densely populated civilian areas.

According to the data, the US dropped more weapons on Afghanistan in 2018 and 2019 – a rate of more than 20 a day – than at the peak of its military involvement in 2011.

One deadly airstrike occurred in the morning of 19 July 2018. During an Afghan ground operation in Chahar Dara district, Kunduz province, two missiles were dropped on a house, destroying the building and killing everyone inside – more than a dozen people – apart from one baby.

Both Afghanistan and America initially denied there had been any civilian casualties – though the Afghan Ministry of Defence soon admitted wrongdoing and paid compensation. It took a campaign from the United Nations for the US to eventually admit, after two investigations, that civilians had been killed.

And even as America scales-back its operation ahead of September, there is still a risk of mounting civilian casualties. The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) has reported that civilian casualties resulting from airstrikes by the Afghan Air Force during the first six months of 2020 tripled, compared to the same time period in 2019. 

Meanwhile, allied forces cannot claim “Mission Accomplished” in the country. The Taliban still controls vast swathes of Afghanistan, and continues to attack Afghan forces and civilians. Human Rights Watch (HRW) even reported last month that Taliban attacks on journalists have increased sharply since the initiation of peace talks between the terrorist group and the Afghan Government last September.

“A wave of threats and killings has sent a chilling message to the Afghan media at a precarious moment as Afghans on all sides get set to negotiate free speech protections in a future Afghanistan,” said Patricia Gossman of HRW. “By silencing critics through threats and violence, the Taliban have undermined hopes for preserving an open society in Afghanistan.”

Meanwhile, estimates suggest that the United States spent at least £822 billion on the conflict between 2001 and 2019.

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