A significant decline in civilian casualties was noted in Afghanistan during the last quarter of 2020, said the UN on Tuesday.
Fresh figures by the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan suggest the overall number of civilian casualties in 2020 stood at 8,820 -- 3,035 killed and 5,785 injured -- which fell below 10,000 for the first time since 2013 and was 15% lower than in 2019.
“2020 could have been the year of peace in Afghanistan. Instead, thousands of Afghan civilians perished due to the conflict,” said Deborah Lyons, the UN special envoy for Afghanistan.
She urged the warring parties not to squander a single day in taking the urgent steps to avoid more suffering. “Ultimately, the best way to protect civilians is to establish a humanitarian ceasefire,” she said.
The UN figures suggest women and children continue to face disproportionate impact of the violence, making up 43% of all civilian casualties. According to the report, child casualties totaled 2,619 (30%) and women 1,146 (13%). More women were killed in the conflict in 2020 than any year.
The report said the intra-Afghan talks that began in Qatar on Sept. 12 failed to alleviate the scale of civilian harm, a key indicator of violence levels. Instead, there was an escalation of violence with disturbing trends and consequences.
It blamed the Taliban for most of these casualties (45% of the total) and Islamic State in the Levant-Khorasan Province (ISIL-KP) responsible for 8%. The Afghan government and Allied forces were held responsible for 2,231 (841 killed and 1,390 injured) casualties.
Taliban reject the report
Hours after publication of the report, the Taliban insurgents rejected it.
The latest UNAMA report came on the heels of a notable breakthrough in the nascent yet rejuvenated intra-Afghan talks in Doha between the Taliban and the Afghan government representatives late on Monday.
“This evening, a meeting was held in a cordial atmosphere between the leaders and some members of the two delegations for the inter-Afghan talks. The meeting emphasized the need to continue negotiations. And assigned groups to set the agenda, to continue their meetings on the subject,” said Taliban spokesman Mohammad Naeem.
In a series of tweets, Afghan government’s top peace delegate Mohammad Masoom Stanekzai said the current opportunity for peace in the country is "valuable". “[…] the Negotiation Team of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan will make every effort to move the peace negotiation process forward.”
For over a month since the resumption of intra-Afghan talks, the two sides had no interaction until the latest meeting late on Monday.