KABUL — The number of civilians dying in Afghanistan's protracted 16-year war dropped slightly during the first three months of this year, the United Nations reported Thursday, but in a surprising twist more women and children are among the dead and wounded than in previous casualty reports.
The report blamed the hike in casualties among women and children on aerial attacks. According to U.N. figures, there were 148 casualties from aerial bombings in the first three months of this year compared to 29 last year. Casualties from unexploded ordnance, which seemed to claim mostly children, was also up slightly.
"It is civilians, with increasing numbers of women and children, who far too often bear the brunt of the conflict," said Tadamichi Yamamoto, the Secretary-General's Special Representative for Afghanistan in a release.
Although there was a four per cent overall drop in casualties during the first three months of the year, the U.N. suggested the drop may be the result of Afghan civilians fleeing their homes. According to the report there is an unprecedented number of Afghans displaced by war living inside the country. There are another 1.5 million Afghans living as refugees in neighbouring Pakistan.
The U.N. blamed 62 per cent of the civilian casualties on insurgents while ordinary Afghans caught in the crossfire accounted for nearly 35 per cent of all casualties.
Both the Taliban and the Islamic State group are present in Afghanistan. They are fighting each other and Afghanistan's security forces.
Earlier this week, a half dozen Taliban attacked an army base in northern Afghanistan in one of the worst attacks against the security forces, killing as many as 140 soldiers.
Meanwhile, the U.S. has about 9,800 troops in Afghanistan. NATO ended its combat mission in the country in 2014, and the primary role of U.S. troops is now to assist and train, though increasingly the U.S. has been called in by Afghan Security Forces for support.
The report accused anti-government elements, without specifying Taliban or the Islamic State group, of intentionally targeting civilians.
"During an armed conflict, the intentional killing and injuring of civilians is a war crime," Yamamoto said in the release. "Anti-Government Elements must stop this deplorable practice and everybody must apply- and respect - the definition of 'civilian' provided by international humanitarian law."
Amir Shah, The Associated Press