Security

Civilian casualties increase as Taliban violence intensifies in northeast

By Hedayatullah and AFP

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Three members of a family receive treatment November 21 in Kunduz regional hospital after they were wounded in a mortar attack on November 13 in Talwaka village, Kunduz city. [Hedayatullah]

KUNDUZ -- The Taliban continue to carry out attacks that disproportionately kill and injure civilians in Kunduz, Takhar and Baghlan provinces, according to the northeastern office of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC).

So far this year, 173 civilians have been killed and another 261 have been injured by militants' violence, including the use of civilians as human shields, the AIHRC office in Kunduz city reported on December 10.

Most of the civilians killed and injured this year are from Kunduz Province, said Sayed Hafizullah Fetrat, director of the northeastern AIHRC office.

"Unfortunately, the total number of civilians killed in Kunduz Province is 152 with 152 injured, 49 killed and 79 injured in Takhar, while 18 civilians were killed in Baghlan and 30 more were injured," he said.

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President Ashraf Ghani meets with Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff (first left), at the Presidential Palace December 16. [Afghan Presidential Palace]

A majority of the civilian casualties in the first nine months of the solar year were caused by the Taliban, according to AIHRC's research.

The victims include men, women, children and the elderly, and the cause of their deaths mostly was violence perpetrated by the Taliban, Fetrat said.

The number of civilian casualties caused by armed conflicts climbed about 34% compared with last year, he said, adding that 115 civilians were killed and 533 were injured in the prior year.

The data collected by AIHRC staff are based on pictures and videos taken from scenes of attacks or fighting, but staff cannot collect data in areas controlled by the Taliban, Fetrat said.

Protecting civilian lives

Residents of Kunduz Province called on the Taliban to stop violence as peace talks appear to be making progress in Doha, Qatar.

"Since peace talks are somehow moving in the right direction, the Taliban must reduce the ongoing violence," said Hasibullah Hassas, a resident of Kunduz city.

"The more the Taliban intensify bombings in general, car bombings and attacks on highways and city centres, the more it sets back the peace process," he said.

The majority of the civilian casualties have taken place in Imam Sahib, Khanabad, Dasht-i-Archi and Aliabad districts and in Kunduz city, said Abdul Satar Shamal, director of the Civilian Protection Advocacy Group (CPAG) in the province.

The Taliban are responsible for the majority of civilian casualties, he said.

The CPAG has 22 members and has held meetings with parties involved in the conflict including the Taliban to prevent civilian casualties, Shamal said.

"We urge all parties involved to pay attention to the lives of civilians during operations," he said.

In one tragic example, a mortar hit a house on November 13 in Talwaka village in Kunduz city, killing eight members of a family and injuring five others, he said.

"Blind attacks cause civilian casualties, and both parties must avoid civilian casualties," said Muhammad Omar Kunduzi, a lecturer at Kunduz University.

Taliban continue attacks

The Taliban also continue to launch attacks on Afghan forces in several parts of the country.

At least 13 Afghan policemen were killed and five wounded when Taliban militants assaulted two checkpoints overnight on the outskirts of Pul-i-Khumri, Baghlan Province, officials said Wednesday (December 16).

The militants stormed and briefly held the checkpoints, officials said.

The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack, the latest in a wave of violence to rock the country in recent weeks.

In a separate incident December 16, five security personnel and 17 Taliban militants were killed when government forces countered an offensive in Uruzgan Province, another official said.

Taliban militants struck checkpoints in five districts surrounding the city of Kandahar overnight last Saturday-Sunday (December 12-13), which Afghan forces countered with heavy air and ground assaults, the Ministry of Defence said in a statement December 13.

"The security forces repulsed the attack, killing 51 terrorists and wounding nine," the ministry said, without offering details of any casualties among government forces.

The continuing surge in violence spurred Afghan and US officials meeting in Kabul December 16 to express "their concerns over the escalation of violence in Afghanistan", Ghani's office said in a tweet.

President Ashraf Ghani met with Gen. Mark Milley, the US chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, at the Presidential Palace, and the two discussed the Afghan peace process "and the immediate need for a ceasefire in the country", it said in the Twitter post December 16.

"General Milley assured the President that the United States will continue to support the Afghan Defence and Security forces," it added.

Milley separately conferred with the Taliban in Qatar this week, according to AFP. They "discussed the need for an immediate reduction of violence", said Cmdr. Sarah Flaherty, a Milley spokesperson.

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