The number of civilians killed by the Afghan air force increased almost eight times between the first half of 2015 and the second, according to a new report on protecting civilians in armed conflict by the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan. The organization recorded five civilians killed and 23 injured by the Afghan air force between January and and June 2015, and 41 killed and 57 injured in the latter half of the year.
Counting both coalition and Afghan airstrikes, the number of children killed or wounded in aerial operations increased 69 percent in 2015 with 36 killed and 55 wounded, according to UNAMA’s report. Despite carrying out far fewer missions than the coalition, Afghan pilots caused 49 of those 91 casualties, the organization found.
“UNAMA is concerned that this trend that may increase as the Afghan Air Force fields more combat aircraft in 2016,” the report said.
The report adds that overall, civilian casualties caused by aerial operations in Afghanistan increased 8 percent in 2015, with 149 killed and 147 more injured. The U.S.-led military coalition caused 57 percent of those casualties, with 42 killed and 43 injured in an Oct. 3 U.S. strike on a hospital in Kunduz province, according to UNAMA’s report. Previous accounts of the incident have found that at least 30 civilians were killed there. The United States has attributed the case to human error and procedural failures.
Air Force Capt. Eydie Sakura, a spokeswoman for the U.S. advisers working with the Afghan air force, referred comment to the Afghan military Tuesday. A spokesman for the Afghan air force could not immediately be reached.
The report comes as the Afghan air force incorporates more aircraft capable of launching airstrikes. As of Dec. 31, the force had at least 28 helicopters, including including one Mi-35 attack helicopter, three Mi-24 attack helicopters, 10 MD-530 light-attack helicopters and 14 Mi-17 transport helicopters modified with fixed forward-firing machine guns.
The UNAMA report specifically highlighted two incidents in which the Afghan air force killed civilians. In the first, a helicopter opened fire on a group of militants in the Shakh bazaar in Faryab province’s Qaysar district, killing and injuring several of them. But the attack “also killed two boys and injured six civilian men, and destroyed two fuel shops,” the report said.
In the second incident, an Afghan helicopter opened fire on the Dasht-e-Archi district center in Kunduz province, “repeatedly firing” on a residential area and killing one civilian and wounding four others, including two children and a woman. The Afghan military reportedly “struck the area due to a malfunctioning GPS system in the helicopter,” the report said.
The Super Tucano, though, will offer the Afghan air force significantly more firepower. For the first time, the Afghan military will be able to drop bombs of 250 to 500 pounds from its own aircraft. However, the ordnance includes “dumb bombs” that do not have the GPS technology the U.S. military regularly uses to improve precision on its strikes.
Afghan pilots who will fly the A-29 have been training at Moody Air Force Base in Georgia and are expected to begin using the aircraft in combat in coming months. The twin-seat turboprop plane isn’t as powerful as a fighter jet, but it can carry a variety of weapons and surveillance equipment and is designed to be easier to fly.
Overall, UNAMA documented 11,002 civilian casualties in Afghanistan in 2015, a 4 percent increase over the previous year. Those numbers included 3,545 deaths and 7,457 injuries as the country struggled through a brutal year in which a resurgent Taliban seized control of territory in numerous parts of the country.
Air operations caused about 3 percent of the civilian casualties in 2015. About 37 percent were caused by ground combat, with 21 percent caused by improvised explosive devices, 17 percent caused by suicide bombers and other complex attacks, 13 percent caused by targeted killings, 4 percent caused by previously unexploded ordnance and 5 percent caused by other factors, UNAMA found.