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Civilian Casualties in Afghanistan Hit Record High Amid US Troop Withdrawal: UN

Brittany Jordan

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Civilian casualties in Afghanistan hit a record high in May and June of 2021, when U.S. troops began their withdrawal, a United Nations report said Monday.

The overall number of civilian deaths and injuries in the first half of 2021 rose 47 percent to 5,183 compared to the same period in 2020 and inched towards the 2017 record of 5,272, he UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) said in its report (pdf).

At the same time, between May 1 and June 30, the report noted 2,392 civilian casualties, the highest number on record for those two months since the agency began tracking in 2009. During the period in question, the report recorded 783 civilian deaths and 1,609 injuries.

The agency said in the report it “is concerned by the increased number of civilian casualties that have occurred since the announcements by international military forces in April, and then commencement shortly thereafter, of their withdrawal from Afghanistan, after which the Taliban captured a significant number of district administrative centres.”

President Joe Biden in April ordered the full withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan, prompting warnings of a Taliban resurge.

In late June, Gen. Scott Miller, the military commander directing the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan, said that the security situation in the country has deteriorated as the Taliban talked peace and, at the same time, engaged in offensive operations across the country.

Recently, CIA Director William Burns said that the Taliban is probably in its best military position in decades.

“The Taliban are making significant military advances; they’re probably in the strongest military position that they’ve been in since 2001,” Burns told NPR in a July 22 interview.

Security personnel inspect a damaged vehicle where rockets were fired from in Kabul, Afghanistan, on July 20, 2021. (Rahmat Gul/AP Photo)

But while the CIA director acknowledged the seriousness and urgency of the Taliban threat, he cautioned against viewing as inevitable the collapse of the Afghan government, which he insisted “retains significant military capabilities.”

“The big question,” he said, “is whether or not those capabilities can be exercised with the kind of political willpower and unity of leadership that’s absolutely essential to resist the Taliban.”

“The trend lines are certainly troubling,” he continued. “I don’t think that that should lead us to foregone conclusions or a sense of imminence or inevitability, but they really are worrying.”

Commenting on the civilian casualty report, Deborah Lyons, the UN secretary-general’s special representative for Afghanistan, urged the Taliban and the Afghan government to find a peaceful resolution to their long-running conflict.

“I implore the Taliban and Afghan leaders to take heed of the conflict’s grim and chilling trajectory and its devastating impact on civilians,” Lyons said in a statement. “The report provides a clear warning that unprecedented numbers of Afghan civilians will perish and be maimed this year if the increasing violence is not stemmed.”

The Taliban’s leadership over Afghanistan was toppled in 2001 after the U.S. military action in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. The group was accused of harboring terror mastermind Osama bin Laden, who was killed during a raid about 10 years later in neighboring Pakistan.

Brittany Jordan is an award-winning journalist who reports on breaking news in the U.S. and globally for the Federal Inquirer. Prior to her position at the Federal Inquirer, she was a general assignment features reporter for Newsweek, where she wrote about technology, politics, government news and important global events around the world. Her work has also appeared in the Washington Post, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, Toronto Star, Frederick News-Post, West Hawaii Today, the Miami Herald, and more. Brittany enjoys food, travel, photography, and hoarding notebooks and journals. Her goal is to do more longform features journalism, narrative writing and documentary work, and to one day write a successful novel and screenplay.

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