Afghan Election Season Begins With a Deadly Attack and a U.N. Report That Civilian Casualties Are Down

As peace talks between the U.S. and Taliban proceed, the U.N. notes that more civilians have been killed by airstrikes than insurgent attacks this year.
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Locals gather near the site of a complex attack that killed at least 20 people and injured 50 more in Kabul, Afghanistan, on July 28th, 2019. The target of the attack was the campaign headquarters of President Ashraf Ghani's vice presidential running mate, Amrullah Saleh.

Locals gather near the site of a complex attack that killed at least 20 people and injured 50 more in Kabul, Afghanistan, on July 28th, 2019. The target of the attack was the campaign headquarters of President Ashraf Ghani's vice presidential running mate, Amrullah Saleh. 

KABUL, Afghanistan — This morning the United Nations Assistance Mission for Afghanistan released a six-month report on civilian casualties in Afghanistan. The report, which covers January to June of this year, notes a decrease of 27 percent in the number of casualties as compared to the first half of last year, the deadliest year for Afghan civilians since UNAMA began reporting on casualties in 2009. Nonetheless, while overall casualties have decreased, a worrisome trend that began once United States forces ended combat operations in Afghanistan in 2014 has continued: U.S. and Afghan forces have killed more civilians than the Taliban and Daesh (ISIS) have so far this year.

Earlier this month, Taliban and Afghan representatives in Doha, Qatar, pledged to reduce the number of civilians killed to zero, though both sides have killed civilians since the non-binding joint statement was released.

In the first half of 2019, 1,366 Afghan civilians were killed and 2,446 were wounded, while 1,729 were killed and 3,476 were wounded in the first half of 2018. Though the Taliban and Daesh wounded hundreds more civilians than U.S. and Afghan government forces, U.S. and Afghan airstrikes killed 717 civilians, while anti-government groups killed only 531 in the first half of this year. The remaining reported civilian deaths occurred in crossfire, without a clearly identifiable perpetrator.

Attacks by the Taliban and Daesh often use improvised explosive devices and suicide bombers, which frequently maim and injure civilians in their vicinity. American and Afghan military airstrikes use large precision bombs dropped by airplanes and helicopter-based rockets, which are much more lethal than improvised explosives.

The UNAMA report was released two days after campaign season for the upcoming presidential election began. In Afghanistan, elections often bring waves of violence orchestrated by the Taliban, who consider the Afghan government to be an illegitimate puppet of the United States.

On October 20th of last year, the Afghan government held parliamentary elections across the country. By the end of the day, 56 civilians were killed and 453 were wounded in attacks at voting sites in cities all over Afghanistan, making it the deadliest day in the country of 2018. Multiple people in Kabul have stated they do not intend to vote in the upcoming election, citing attacks on voting sites as their reason for avoiding the polls.

The first day of campaigning this year was marked by a complex attack on the headquarters of President Ashraf Ghani's vice presidential candidate, Amrullah Saleh, in Kabul. The attack lasted over eight hours and left at least 20 dead and 50 wounded, according to the Afghan Ministry of Interior.

Abdul Tawib Aziz, 23, who works in the office that was targeted by multiple bombs as well as gunmen, was away at the time of the attack, though he rushed to the scene as soon as he heard about the explosions. He had hoped to give blood to colleagues in need, but arrived too late. He knew the people slain. "All of them were my friends," he says. Two days after the attack, he stood in front of what remained of his former office, watching workers clear rubble and families who lived in nearby buildings take what little remained of their homes from the wreckage.

Aziz echoes a sentiment expressed by many in Kabul, a sense of resignation and frustration with an almost 20-year conflict that few believe will end soon. Violence by the Taliban and the government continues to be an almost daily feature of life in Afghanistan, especially in Kabul where the Afghan government, foreign non-governmental organizations, embassies, and journalists are frequent targets. "In Afghanistan, every person has seen this," Aziz says. "Every person has experienced this."

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