Civilian casualties in Afghanistan hit a record high in May and June of 2021, when U.S. troops began their withdrawal, according to a July 26 U.N. report.
The overall number of civilian deaths and injuries in the first half of 2021 rose by 47 percent to 5,183 compared to the same period in 2020 and inched toward the 2017 record of 5,272, the U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan report (pdf) states.
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 the data in 2009. During that period, the report recorded 783 civilian deaths and 1,609 injuries.
The agency said in the report that it’s “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 resurgence.
In late June, Gen. Scott Miller, the military commander directing the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan, said the security situation in the country has deteriorated as the Taliban have talked peace, yet have engaged in offensive operations across the country.
Recently, CIA Director William Burns said that the Taliban has probably gained 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.
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 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,” Burns said.
“The trend lines are certainly troubling. 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 U.N. 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.