A new United Nations report released Wednesday found that American and Afghan government forces were responsible for more civilian deaths than the Taliban and other rebel groups during the first quarter of 2019, according to the New York Times. The finding is a first ever since the U.N. began keeping a record of civilian casualties 10 years ago.
Though overall civilian deaths in the first quarter reached the lowest number since 2013, the share attributed to pro-government militia rose to 53 percent. Insurgents are responsible for a higher share—54 percent—of civilian casualties overall, even with an annual decrease in number of suicide bombings since last year.
The first quarter of 2019 ushered in an escalation of military operations as both pro- and anti-government forces fought for leverage in peace negotiations between the U.S. government and the Taliban in Qatar. Simultaneously, insurgent suicide bombings that terrorize civilians have dropped relative to before, especially in Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan.
“It is unclear whether the decrease in civilian casualties was influenced by any measures taken by parties to the conflict to better protect civilians, or by the ongoing talks between parties to the conflict,” read the U.N. report.
According to the U.N. report, 581 civilians were killed in the first quarter of 2019, and 1,192 were wounded. The figures represent a 23 percent drop in overall civilian deaths compared to the first quarter of 2018.
The report also suggests an increased use of airstrikes, as Afghan troops tend to defend bases rather than launching all-out, aggressive warfare against the Taliban. When attacked, however, Afghan ground forces frequently call the American-trained Afghan Air Force to strike from above.
The aerial strikes were responsible for the third-highest share of noncombatant casualties, killing 145 and wounding 83 in the latest report. This marks a 41 percent increase in aerial operation deaths compared to the first quarter of 2018. According to the report, almost all of the deaths were a result of American airstrikes.
“A shocking number of civilians continue to be killed and maimed each day,” said the U.N. secretary general's special representative for Afghanistan, Tadamichi Yamamoto. “All parties must do more to safeguard civilians.”
A spokesman for the U.S. military in Afghanistan stated that American troops "hold ourselves to the highest standards of accuracy and accountability” and “strive for precision in all of our operations.”
“We reserve the right of self-defense of our forces as well as the Afghan security forces,” said the spokesman, Colonel Dave Butler. “The best way to end the suffering of noncombatants is to end the fighting through an agreed-upon reduction in violence on all sides.”