Drop in insurgent attacks, coalition airstrikes leads to fewest civilian casualties in Afghanistan since 2012

KABUL, Afghanistan — A suicide bomber detonated an explosives-laden vehicle near a police special forces base in eastern Afghanistan on Tuesday, setting off a gunfight with police that was followed by two more suicide bombings, Afghan officials said. The coordinated attack killed five police and officials said seven militants were also killed.

Gen. Ghulam Daud Tarakhail, Khost provincial police chief, said 34 others, including nine civilians and 25 military personnel, were wounded in the attack.

Tarakhail said the assailants, including the three suicide bombers, were shot and killed in the gun battle with Afghan security forces.

“There were civilian houses near the attack site, so we were so careful to avoid civilian casualties. That is why we were slow in our operation,” he said.

The attack came as the Afghan government continues to fight Taliban militants even as peace talks in Qatar between the two sides take place. It also comes as the U.N. released a report showing a decrease in civilian casualties in the country compared to last year.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for Tuesday’s attack.

Interior Ministry spokesman Tariq Arian said early Tuesday morning a vehicle full of explosives detonated near a base belonging to police special forces.

Separately, in the capital Kabul, three people were killed when a bomb attached to a vehicle exploded, said Ferdaws Faramarz, spokesman for the Kabul police chief.

Faramarz said 10 other people were wounded in the attack. No one immediately claimed responsibility but both the Taliban and Islamic State affiliate are active and have claimed previous attacks in the city.

Gen. Scott Miller, who commands U.S. forces in Afghanistan, told the BBC that Afghan forces must be ready to defend their country. (Operation Resolute Support)

The violence comes as the U.N. mission in Afghanistan, known as UNAMA, released its third quarter report showing a 30 percent decrease in civilian casualties compared to the same period last year.

While noting that “the conflict in Afghanistan remains one of the deadliest in the world for civilians,” the U.N. said the first nine months of this year produced the lowest number of civilian casualties since 2012.

The report documented 5,939 civilian casualties, including 2,117 people killed and 3,822 wounded, from Jan. 1 to Sept. 30. The reduction is mainly due to fewer civilian casualties from suicide attacks by insurgents and from a steep drop in airstrikes by international military forces since March 2020, resulting in significantly fewer civilian casualties attributed to the Taliban.

The report said that in the period from Sept. 12 — the start of the Afghanistan peace negotiations between the government and the Taliban in Qatar — to Sept. 30, there was no reduction in the documented number of civilian casualties caused by parties involved in the talks in comparison to previous weeks.

“The peace talks will need some time to help deliver peace. But all parties can immediately prioritize discussions and take urgent, and frankly overdue, additional steps to stem the terrible harm to civilians,” said Deborah Lyons, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan.

Newly graduated Afghan National Army march during their graduation ceremony after a 3-month training program at the Afghan Military Academy in Kabul, Afghanistan, Sunday, Oct. 13, 2019. (Rahmat Gul/AP)

The report said that more than four out of every 10 civilian casualties were children or women.

The U.N. said that insurgents remain responsible for the majority of civilian casualties. The overall number of civilian casualties attributed to the Taliban dropped by 32 percent, mainly due to a reduction in the number of civilians injured by suicide attacks and ground engagements.

Afghan security forces were responsible for 23 percent of all civilian casualties. A similar number was recorded in the first nine months of 2019.

The developments come amid an uptick in violence. Afghanistan claimed Sunday it killed a top al-Qaida propagandist on an FBI most-wanted list during an operation in the country’s east, showing the militant group’s continued presence there as U.S. forces work to withdraw from America’s longest-running war amid continued bloodshed.

The reported death of Husam Abd al-Rauf, also known by the nom de guerre Abu Muhsin al-Masri, follows weeks of violence, including a suicide bombing by the Islamic State group Saturday at an education center near Kabul that killed 24 people.

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