KABUL, Afghanistan — According to a new report from the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, last year was the deadliest year for Afghan civilians since 2009, when UNAMA first began tracking civilian casualties. In 2018, 3,804 Afghan civilians were killed and 10,993 were wounded.
The deadliest day last year was October 20th, the voting day for Afghanistan's parliamentary election, when 56 Afghans were killed and 453 were wounded.
Although the report says that the Taliban are responsible for a majority of civilian casualties, it notes that Taliban-caused casualties dropped by 7 percent over the year, while civilians killed or injured by Daesh have increased by 118 percent. Daesh in Afghanistan, also known as the Islamic State Khorasan Province, has been fighting both the Afghan government and the Taliban since 2015 in Nangarhar province in the eastern part of the country.
While a majority of civilian casualties were caused by improvised explosive devices, one of the report's more alarming findings is that casualties caused by airstrikes in 2018—64 percent of whom were women and children—almost doubled those in 2017. This marks a continuation of an upward trend in civilian casualties from airstrikes since American forces ceased combat operations in 2014. According to the report, "the increase in civilian casualties from aerial operations in 2018 was largely driven by international Military Forces' operations, which caused more civilian casualties than operations by the Afghan Air Force."
While the report does not differentiate between drone-based airstrikes and those by manned aircraft, under President Donald Trump, the United States' restrictions for drone attacks against terrorists have been loosened, allowing for strikes against a wider range of targets. When he outlined his Afghanistan foreign policy in August of 2017, Trump remarked, "We are not nation-building again, we are killing terrorists."
The U.N. report was published on the heels of two different sets of peace talks with the Taliban; one, in Doha, involving the U.S. government, and the other, in Moscow, with Afghan High Peace Council representatives and Afghanistan's former president Hamid Karzai. Both sets of talks lacked an official representative from the Afghan government, with whom the Taliban say they will not negotiate until all U.S. troops leave the country. Recently, however, an Afghan government official stated that direct talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban were a possibility in the coming weeks and months.
Last month, Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani revealed that 45,000 Afghan security forces had been killed since 2014, defying a long-standing policy of keeping Afghan military deaths secret. As Afghanistan prepares for a loya jirga, a traditional Afghan meeting of national and local leaders that will ostensibly decide the framework for a peace deal between the government and the Taliban, the increased number of casualties for both civilians and soldiers belies how important a peace settlement is for the country of Afghanistan.