5 reasons the new Afghan civilian casualty report is awful


Smoke and flames rise from fuel trucks after an overnight attack by the Taliban on the outskirts of Kabul, Afghanistan, on July 5. Civilian casualties in Afghanistan are on the rise this year as troops with the U.S.-led coalition withdraw. Photo by REUTERS/Mohammad Ismail

The U.S. military has less than five months before its formal combat role in Afghanistan comes to a close. That means many things, including the Taliban testing Afghan troops in a series of bloody battles across the countryside. But it also means this: Civilian casualties are up exponentially, and there is no signs of it letting up.

That’s according to a new report released today by the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan. The report has received some media attention this morning, but considering the focus of this blog, it seemed prudent to drill down into what is occurring. Here are five key findings in the report, which covered the first six months of 2014:


This chart is in the United Nations’ new civilian casualty report for Afghanistan.

1. Civilians are dying in firefights at an unprecedented level.
Death and injuries caused by mortars, rocket-propelled grenades and small-arms fire has jumped dramatically since 2013, especially in areas with concentrated civilian populations, the report says. In the first six months of 2014, the U.N. counted 1,901 civilian casualties due to ground combat, including 474 deaths and 1,427 injuries. That is up 89 percent since 2013.

2. Women and children are getting hit more frequently.
Some 295 children were killed and and 776 were injured in the first six months of 2014. That’s up 34 percent from 2013, to 1,071 casualties. The number of adult female civilian casualties also jumped 24 percent to 440, including 148 killed and 292 injured. The biggest factor contributing to the numbers in both cases was attacks, as opposed to improvised explosive devices. Ground engagements killed 112 children and injured 408, an increase of 111 percent over 2013 in total child casualties. Ground combat killed 64 women and injured 192 in the first half of 2014, a combined 256 adult female civilian casualties. That’s up 61 percent over 2013.

3. Civilian casualties caused by IEDs have risen their highest number since the U.S. surge.
The increase in ground engagement casualties overshadows another negative: The number of civilians killed or wounded by IEDs has jumped to 1,463 in the first half of 2014, up 7 percent from 2013. That marks the single largest number of civilian casualties due to IEDs  in a six-month period since 2009, before President Obama called for tens of thousands of additional U.S. troops to flow into the country. The number of pressure-plate IEDs — which do not discriminate between military targets and 5-year-old kids — also appears to have surged in 2014. Some 161 civilians were killed and 147 were wounded by them so far this year, a combined 308 casualties. That marks a 33 percent increase over 2013.


This chart in the new United Nations civilian casualty report for Afghanistan shows the number of deaths and injuries due to ground combat is on the rise in numerous parts of the country in 2014.

4. The number of civilian casualties in ground engagements is especially up in areas where the U.S. surged military forces.
When the U.S. military surge began in late 2009, most of those troops were sent to southern Afghanistan, especially Helmand and Kandahar provinces. Others were sent to eastern Afghanistan. As the U.S.-led military coalition pulls its forces back, however, the number of civilians killed or injured in those areas in ground engagements is on the rise. For example, there were 246 civilian casualties from January 2013 to June 2014 in southern Afghanistan. That number jumped all the way to 410 over the same six-month time period this year.

5. Afghan troops are killing more civilians while in firefights.
The Taliban and other insurgent forces have long been responsible for the bulk of civilian casualties in Afghanistan. But the number of incidents in which Afghan national security forces kill or wound civilians is on the rise, the report says. That’s troubling considering they are still locked in a counterinsurgency fight with the Taliban in which civilian casualties can turn the people against them.

In the first half of 2014, there were 274 civilian casualties (74 deaths and 200 injuries) caused by Afghan troops while in firefights, a 99 percent increase over the same period in 2013. Of those, the Afghan National Army was responsible for 33 deaths and 81 injuries, the Afghan National Police was responsible for one death and 15 injuries, the Afghan Local Police was responsible for 10 deaths and four injuries, and a variety of operations involving multiple kinds of troops accounted for the rest.

International troops, including the U.S., were found to be responsible for three civilian deaths and no injuries in the same time frame, the U.N. report says.

Dan Lamothe covers national security for The Washington Post and anchors its military blog, Checkpoint.
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