An ambulance packed with explosives that detonated in Kabul and a pedestrian suicide bombing outside a Shiite shrine there were among the deadly incidents that led to a near-record 2,258 civilian casualties in Afghanistan during the first quarter of this year, UN officials reported this week.
According to the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, there were 763 conflict-related civilian deaths and 1,495 injuries across Afghanistan between January and March. Those figures were comparable with record-high levels of casualties reported during the same period in the past two years, as aggressive attacks by Taliban insurgents and ISIS increased.
In an especially alarming sign, the report indicated the number of casualties caused by suicide bombings or by complex insurgent assaults with both bombs and guns was twice as high as during the first quarter of 2017, even as thousands of US military troops embarked on an ambitious effort to expand and bolster the performance of Afghan defense forces.
The Western-backed war effort has continued to suffer from a number of problems, including low morale among Afghan troops and corruption among military officials. The Taliban have failed to capture any cities but control large portions of territory across the country, more than at any time since the war began in 2002. ISIS has mainly targeted urban Shiite communities, with dozens of attacks.
The largest single spike in civilian casualties came during a 10-day period in January, when both Taliban and ISIS forces attacked numerous targets in Kabul, killing more than 150 people and wounding hundreds. They included the ambulance suicide attack near a hospital, a commando siege of a luxury hotel and an armed raid on a military training facility.
A second deadly trend during the first three months of the year was a string of bombings and other attacks on Shiite communities, mosques and other targets, both in Kabul and in other cities including Herat and Mazar-e-Sharif. Most were claimed by ISIS. One March bombing near a shrine in Kabul, where Shiites had gathered to celebrate the Persian new year, killed 30 people and wounded scores.
“Afghan civilians continue to suffer, caught in the conflict, in ways that are preventable. This must stop now,” Ingrid Hayden, the UN Secretary General’s deputy special representative for Afghanistan, said in a statement. “All parties to the conflict . . . must do everything in their power to protect civilians from harm.”
The UN report said casualties caused by pro-government forces so far this year were slightly lower than the first part of last year, but that positive news was immediately dampened by the deadly Afghan air force bombing of a religious school in Kunduz province April 2, in which at least 30 civilians, including young students, were reportedly killed. Some residents said the number of dead was 50.
Afghan military officials said the air attack was aimed at Taliban leaders in the compound and that several of them were killed.
The Washington Post