Civilian deaths and injuries in from explosive weapons rose by more than a third last year, against a downward trend globally, according to a survey seen by the Guardian.
Most of the 4,260 civilians killed or injured in explosions in the country in 2018 – up from 3,119 in 2017 – were victims of suicide attacks, found by Action on Armed Violence (AOAV).
Globally, however, the picture was different. The report recorded a total of 22,335 civilian deaths and injuries from the use of explosive weapons in 2018, compared with 31,904 the previous year, suggesting civilian casualties fell by about a third. There was also a 26% decrease in attacks recorded on populated areas around the world.
In total, 78% of civilians casualties recorded in Afghanistan were caused by improvised explosive devices (IEDs) – 62% in suicide attacks, AOAV found. Civilian casualties caused by Isis explosives in Afghanistan rose by 90% compared with the year before. The number of civilian casualties from airstrikes almost doubled, from 238 in 2017 to 463 last year. The report attributed the increase – which the organisation said was probably underestimated, given that not all casualties are reported – to the US conducting a greater number of strikes aimed at the increased military presence.
The findings follow a UN report last year that warned the killing and maiming of civilians in Afghanistan, mainly by IEDs, had reached “extreme levels”. In October, the UN assistance mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) expressed “serious concern” over a record number of deliberate and indiscriminate attacks on civilians by anti-government elements in the country.
“Despite such positive news globally, once again, IEDs are causing more civilian casualties than any other type of explosive weapon,” said Iain Overton, executive director of AOAV, a charity dedicated to reducing the impact of global armed violence.
“For the eighth consecutive year, when explosive weapons were used in populated areas, 90% of those killed or injured were civilians.”
IEDs were responsible for 42% of civilian casualties from all explosive harm, while airstrikes caused 32% of harm. Ground-launched weapons caused 15% and attacks using multiple explosive weapons 9%.
“Against a fall in civilian casualties globally, we are seeing a rise in some countries, notably Afghanistan, , India and Libya,” said Overton. “Afghanistan has a record number of civilian deaths in 2018.”
Other countries where civilian casualties rose were Ethiopia, Gaza, Iran, the Philippines and Malaysia.
The overall decrease in civilian casualties worldwide was largely due to the short-term defeat of Isis in Iraq and Syria, Overton said, as well as the decline of Boko Haram in Nigeria.
Liam McDowall, a spokesperson for UNAWA, the agency in Afghanistan that provides details of civilian casualties to the security council, said its next report was due out in February. According to the latest UN figures, 8,050 civilians died or were wounded overall between January and September 2018. The use of suicide bombs and other IEDs by anti-government elements accounted for almost half the casualties. The UN expressed grave concern over the increase in direct targeting of civilians, including ethnic and religious minorities.
McDowall, who said he could not comment on AOAV figures, confirmed that 2018 had brought a “record high” in civilian casualties in Afghanistan for the past four years. Before 2014, the majority of casualties were the result of ground engagement between Afghan forces and insurgents.
“The UN is concerned about the deliberate targeting of civilians and the use of suicide IEDs,” said McDowall. “Over the course of last year, because of the very high profile attacks and insurgencies, IEDs have become the largest cause of deaths.”
Civilian deaths and injuries in Yemen rose from 1,670 to 1,807 last year, a rise of just over 8%. India had a 21% rise, from 267 to 322, while in Libya there was a 140% increase, from 163 in 2017 to 392 in 2018, according to AOAV. In Syria, civilian casualties dropped from 8,767 to 5,061.
Civilian deaths in Afghanistan at record high, UN says
“While Syria remained the worst country impacted by explosive weapons last year, casualties decreased by a quarter in 2018,” Overton said. “This comes despite seeing the highest levels of civilian casualties from explosive violence in February and March 2018, when Syrian and Russian forces carried out an extensive bombardment of .”
Despite the overall drop in civilian casualties in Syria last year, there was an “alarming escalation” of civilians killed and injured in US-led coalition airstrikes during the final months of 2018, the report found. This increase accounted for 65% of casualties in Syria during that three-month period.
Countries in which there was a significant decrease in civilian harm from explosive violence included Somalia, with a 48% fall in civilian casualties, Pakistan (48%) and Iraq (77%).
The AOAV report was compiled using data from sources including Airwars, the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data project, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and reliable media sources.