Hours after the United Nations issued its biannual report on civilian casualties in Afghanistan, a suicide bombing at the memorial service for President Hamid Karzai’s half brother underscored the report’s main findings: Security is deteriorating.
The first six months of this year were the bloodiest on record for civilians in a decade of fighting in Afghanistan, according to the report. A string of high profile attacks in recent weeks has killed and injured scores throughout the country.
During the opening months of 2011, “the armed conflict in Afghanistan brought increasingly grim impacts and a bleak outlook for Afghan civilians,” wrote the authors of the UN report. “All civilian deaths and injuries, no matter what party is responsible, have tragic and lasting impacts on families and communities.”
Thursday’s bombing took place in Kandahar’s Red Mosque, where mourners had gathered for Ahmad Wali Karzai’s memorial service. As the ceremony came to an end, a suicide bomber detonated himself, injuring more than a dozen people and killing at least four, including Maulavi Hekmatullah Hekmat, the leader of Kandahar’s religious council. A number of dignitaries were present for the ceremony, but the president was not in attendance at the time of the blast.
The death toll from Ahmad Wali’s memorial service comes in addition to a total of 1,462 people who were killed as a result of fighting during the first half of this year, a 15 percent increase compared with the same time last year. The number of civilians killed by war-related causes has risen steadily each year since the war began in 2001.
Insurgents were responsible for 80 percent of the deaths, a 28 percent increase compared with last year. International and Afghan forces caused 14 percent of the deaths, down 9 percent from the same time last year. The remaining deaths were not attributed to any group.
The growing number of civilian deaths was attributed to the increased use of roadside bombs, more complex suicide attacks, a rise in the number of targeted killings, more fighting, and more people killed in helicopter airstrikes, according to the report.
The report also documented the deaths of 14 civilians killed by 289 Pakistani artillery rounds fired during the last two weeks in June.
“At this point, I don’t believe that the foreign forces will be able to withdraw on schedule because the situation is getting worse,” says Hashim Watanwal, a member of parliament from Uruzgan Province. “If the Afghan forces take responsibility or are in charge, I don’t believe that they will be able to control the situation.”
Mr. Watanwal added that he believes Afghan security forces are responsible for a larger percentage of the civilian casualties because, he says, they often give inaccurate reports about these issues.
Kunar Province experienced some of the most high-profile civilian casualty incidents during the first half of this year. There, residents say that they believe a larger number of civilians were killed than is reflected in the report, but the deaths were not documented because the province is mountainous and rural, making it difficult to report on.
Tribal elders in Kunar say they have begun to speak with the Taliban and are working to stop any members of the Taliban from entering their villages, unless they are originally from the area. Haji Gul Alam, a tribal elder in Kunar, says that locals must reach settlements with the Taliban in their villages for the civilian casualties to decline.
“Through this we can have positive news and we can stop the civilian casualties,” he says.