KABUL, 14 Feb. 2016 -- The Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan (GoIRA) has reviewed the 2015 “Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict Annual Report” by the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan and is grateful to UNAMA for providing an advance copy.
This important report once again confirms the horrifically high price Afghans are paying as a result of conflict, whereby the actions of the Taliban and other terrorist groups are seeking to deny our citizens the right to live in peace and protect their families from harm.
UNAMA’s close monitoring and detailed analysis of the security situation in Afghanistan leaves no doubt as to the many ways the Taliban and their affiliates are terrorizing and brutalizing our civilian population. These groups wreak havoc, in defiance of international humanitarian law and other applicable laws including the best Islamic practices established by of Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be upon Him), who established a code of conduct in war and condemned collateral damage.
The GoIRA is particularly saddened by the sharp increase in 2015 of loss of life of Afghan women and girls. The Taliban and their affiliates increasingly trained their sights on Afghan women and girls -- maiming them, killing them, and snatching away their constitutional and human rights.
As the report notes, “Anti-Government Elements continued to target prominent women human rights defenders and women working in public life… Besides the increased number of women becoming direct casualties from the armed conflict, in most regions, Anti-Government Elements increasingly prevented the women and girls’ enjoyment of fundamental human rights in areas under their control. Throughout 2015, UNAMA documented instances of Anti-Government Elements deliberately restricting the freedom of movement of women and girls, preventing their access to medical care and forbidding girls’ education beyond primary levels.”
In 2015, the GoIRA documented the acceleration of deliberate and indiscriminate attacks on our civilian population and civilian institutions by the Taliban and other terrorist groups, who seek to spread fear and gain fame through sensational media headlines.
In light of our findings, the government urges UNAMA’s monitoring team to pay particular attention to the increasing number of targeted attacks on civilian personal and institutions, including community elders throughout the country, and especially in the south and southeast. Our analysts have identified a pattern in the methods in which these violent attacks were carried out and concluded that there is a systematic effort underway to terrorize these communities and intimidate anyone who denounces violence against civilian populations.
These attacks are a clear breach of international humanitarian law and deserve UNAMA’s full attention.
While the statistics presented in UNAMA’s report cover incidents in high-conflict areas in 12 provinces, the GoIRA monitors and records civilian casualties across the entire country. That data shows how indiscriminate attacks by anti-government elements -- including suicide attacks targeting large numbers of civilians -- were carried out in more than 24 provinces across the country, mainly in cities, where Afghan security forces have not been involved in active combat engagement for obvious reasons. Because these incidents were not included in UNAMA’s report, this report does not present the whole picture, which we regret.
Further, the GoIRA respectfully disagrees with how the report characterizes the 42 percent decrease in civilian casualties from Taliban ground operation attacks. The government’s own analyses of data on ground engagement by the Taliban shows that the main reason for this drop was not the group’s sudden concern for civilian lives, as the report implies, but rather the fact that many people living in areas of consistent indiscriminate shelling, attacks, and harassment by the Taliban were displaced by the conflict.
The GoIRA also questions the decision by UNAMA to not attribute 13 percent of civilian casualties in 2015 to any party of the conflict.
Field data collected by the government in the wake of ground engagements by anti-government forces strongly suggests that in almost every case, the Taliban and their affiliates demonstrated zero concern for the protection of the civilian population. There has been a total absence of accountability or respect for international humanitarian law – including the Geneva Convention -- by these groups. Indeed, their so-called “spokespersons” waste no time claiming responsibility for direct attacks on civilian populations.
The rules of engagement for the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF) adhere strictly to Islamic dictate – which, as noted, abhors collateral damage -- and international humanitarian laws. Our forces are regularly trained on the protection of civilians and consistently held accountable whenever they fail, no matter how slightly; the guiding mission of the ANDSF is to protect and provide security to all Afghans.
The GoIRA is concerned that UNAMA’s decision to not attribute such a large number of civilian deaths misrepresents reality and could help the Taliban and other terrorist groups avoid accountability and escape justice.
Finally, the GoIRA thanks UNAMA for its work in carefully monitoring protection of civilians in armed conflict and for its thoughtful and constructive recommendations. We would like to note the following:
The ANDSF conducts military operations under clearly defined rules, where the use of certain weapons is only allowed under strict criteria involving “justifiability” and “proportionality” and there is full consideration of the civilian population’s safety. The government has many times postponed for days the launch of operations and counter-attacks because of concern for civilian lives and property. Our actions in support of clearing Kunduz City reflected this policy.
Having said the above, the GoIRA agrees that further work can – and will -- be done to improve our rules of engagement and other tactical directives with regard to the use of explosive weapons and armed aircrafts.
Under our national policy on civilian casualty mitigation and the accompanying action plan, a dedicated professional unit will be established to further investigate all conflict-related harm to civilians.
The GoIRA will continue its policy of providing support to families of victims and those who have lost property as a result of the ongoing conflict and attacks by the Taliban and affiliated terrorist groups. We are currently working with the Supreme Court of Afghanistan to determine the appropriate compensation for Afghans who suffer such losses.
The GoIRA reiterates that it does not currently use any civilian facilities – including schools, hospitals or clinics -- for military purposes and in the event any local authority or military official did so, would promptly launch an investigation and provide an appropriate remedy.
The GoIRA has no higher duty than the protection of the Afghan people. We will continue to welcome and support any and all efforts to aid us in this cause.