KUNDUZ -- Military authorities in northern Afghanistan say they have stepped up efforts to avoid civilian casualties during military operations against militants.
Afghan forces are following operating procedures to avoid civilian casualties, according to Col. Abdul Hadi Jamal, a spokesman for the Afghan National Army (ANA)'s 217th Pamir Corps in Kunduz Province.
"On January 19, 2020, the ANA conducted a clearing operation in Mamakhail village of Chahar Dara District in Kunduz," he said. "The Taliban were hiding in the homes of locals while our forces arrived there."
"After learning that the Taliban were hiding in homes and holding hostages, we had to proceed with great caution and ... deployed different tactics," Jamal said.
"In this operation that took nearly three hours, the ANA was able to rescue the members of four families safely, killing eight Taliban fighters and arresting four others," he said.
Lt. Abdul Malik Mansoori, an ANA officer in Kunduz Province, accused the Taliban of spreading phony rumours of civilian casualties caused by Afghan forces.
"In every operation that I have been part of, our main focus has been to protect civilian lives," Mansoori said.
"The Taliban always spread propaganda that Afghan security forces cause civilian casualties. But civilians know very well how precise the security forces are in conducting operations," he said.
The Taliban were responsible for 208 civilian casualties in April, an increase of 25% in comparison to April 2019, the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) said in a statement Tuesday (May 19).
Hiding behind civilians
In contrast, the Taliban use civilians as human shields and fire at security forces from their houses, said Safiullah Amiri, deputy chairman of the Kunduz provincial council.
"The provincial council always receives complaints from districts and villages about the Taliban taking positions in and engaging government forces from houses, mosques, public places and government buildings," Amiri said.
"This unfortunately sometimes leads to civilian casualties and the destruction of public property," he said.
Afghan forces have always tried to protect civilians during engagements with insurgents, but the Taliban do not care about civilians, he added.
"Fortunately, Afghan security forces have always directly attacked Taliban positions while trying to avoid any harm to civilians," said Hamedullah Sahil, a civil society activist in Kunduz Province.
"Unfortunately, the Taliban do not care about civilian lives. Their attacks on security forces are not precise, and most of the time their mortars land on residential houses, killing civilians -- especially women and children," he added.
Most civilian casualties in Kunduz Province were caused by the Taliban, according to Sayed Hafizullah Fetrat, regional director of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC).
"Our data indicate that during solar year 1398 [March 2019-March 2020], the highest number of civilian casualties was caused by the Taliban, mostly due to explosions, attacks, hiding behind civilians and extrajudicial killings in the provincial center and districts of Kunduz," Fetrat said.
"These casualties include women, children and men who were killed in armed clashes," he added, without providing exact figures.