According to the United Nations, civilian causalities from fighting in 2016 in Afghanistan hit their highest level since the organization began systematically gathering such information eight years ago.
A report released on 6 February by the UN Assistance Mission to Afghanistan reported that civilian causalities in the conflict between government forces and insurgents went up by 3% from 2015 and included 3,498 dead and 7,920 wounded. The report disclosed that the increase of causalities amongst children was 24%, with 923 deaths and 2,589 wounded. The report went on to say that antigovernment elements, mainly the Taliban, were responsible of 61% of the civilian causalities in 2016, while government forces were to blame for 20% and pro-government armed groups and international military forces, 2% each. According to the report, the remainder could not be attributed to any side or were caused by unexploded ordnance. The Taliban, which has been fighting the central government since 2001, called the UN findings biased, with spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid stating “the Kabul government and the invading forces are the cause of the civilian causalities. Javid Faisal, an Afghan government spokesman, meanwhile blamed the militants for most of the causalities, adding that the government has taken many measures to avoid civilian causalities.
Most foreign troops were withdrawn from Afghanistan after the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) ended its combat mission in support of the Kabul government at the end of 2014. However since then, the security situation in the country has deteriorated significantly, particularly in provinces where the country’s largest insurgency, the Taliban, have attacked more densely populated communities.
The United Nations in December appealed for a record US $22.2 billion to provide aid in 2017 to surging number of people that have been affected by conflicts and disasters around the world.
Speaking at a press conference, UN humanitarian aid chief Stephen O’Brien disclosed that it is “the highest amount we have ever requested,” noting that the figure “…is a reflection of a state of human needs in the world not witnessed since the Second World War.” He went on to say that more than 80 percent of the needs come from manmade conflicts “many of which are now protracted and push up demand for relief year after year.”
The global appeal by UN agencies and other humanitarian organizations aims to gather funds to help the 92.8 million most vulnerable of the nearly 129 million people who are expected to require assistance across 33 countries in 2017. The numbers are staggering, particularly when considering that three war-ravaged countries – Syria, Yemen and Afghanistan – alone account for about a third of all those in need. In a report, O’Brien disclosed that “with persistently escalating humanitarian needs, the gap between what has to be done to save and protect more people today and what humanitarians are financed to do and can access is growing wider,” nothing that “climate change, natural disasters are likely to become more frequent, more severe,” which will in turn make matters worse.
The Syrian conflict, which has killed more than 300,000 people since march 2011 and forced more than half the population to flee, is set to absorb the biggest portion of the funds, with the UN disclosing that it wants a full US $3.4 billion to go towards helping those inside Syria, and another US $4.7 billion destined for refugees and their hose communities in the region. Second in line is South Sudan, which has been wracked by a civil war since 2013 and where the UN warned last month “ethnic cleansing” is taking place. The UN is planning to spend a total of US $2.5 billion to help South Sudanese in need, including US $1.2 billion for refugees from the country. The UN has indicated that US $1.9 billion should go towards helping the victims of Yemen’s brutal civil war, which has escalated dramatically in the wake of the intervention of a Saudi-led coalition in March 2015.
Aid needs have been rising steadily for decades and when the UN launched its first global appeal 25 years ago, it estimated that just US $2.7 billion would cover aid needs around the globe in 1992. However in the last few years, the situation has worsened dramatically, with O’Brien stating “humanitarian needs continue to rise and humanitarian efforts are hampered by reduced access, growing disrespect for human rights and flagrant violations of international humanitarian law.”
The new report highlighted “severely constrained” humanitarian access in places like Iraq, South Sudan, Syria and Yemen, which is “leaving affected people without basic services and protection.” The report further stats “mines, explosives, remnants of war and improvised explosive devices impede humanitarian aces and threaten the lives of vulnerable populations in conflict-affected regions.”
This year’s sum tops the US $20.1 billion that was requested last December for 2016, when, according to O’Brien, “humanitarian actors have saved, protected and supported more people than in any previous year since the founding of the United Nations.” In the end, the UN broadened its 2016 appeal to US $22.1 billion, however donors only produced US $11.4 billion for aid projects this year.
This year, American air strikes in Afghanistan have already significantly surpassed the total number of strikes that were carried out last year, in what is a stark indicator of the United States’ struggle to extricate itself from the conflict and to stick to its declared “non-combat” mission.
According to US military officials, between 1 January and 20 October this year, American warplanes conducted around 700 air strikes compared to about 500 in total carried out last year. Furthermore, about 240 were under rules that were approved by President Barack Obama in June, which effectively allowed US forces to more actively support Afghan troops during strategic combat operations. Also a similar number were conducted against “counter terrorism” targets, including about fifty against al-Qaeda and 190 against the so-called Islamic State (IS) group. Other air strikes can be conducted in defense of US and international military advisors, as well as some Afghan troops. American air strikes have been credited with helping to prevent Taliban forces from completely overrunning cities like Lashkar Gah, the capital of embattled Helmand province. However despite the air strikes, militants continue to contest or control as much as a third of the country.
This rise in strikes signals a deeper role for American forces that is expected to continue for the foreseeable future. While ending US involvement in Afghanistan was one of President Obama’s signature promises, with him going on to declare the combat mission over at the end of 2014, in the last year of his presidency, however, rising violence has led President Obama to keep more US forces in the fight, both to target a growing IS presence, but also to back up Afghan troops who have been struggling to combat IS and Taliban militants. This year, top American military commanders in Afghanistan successfully pressed the president to reverse an earlier restriction on the use of air strikes, therefore clearing the way for a rise in attacks on IS and Taliban targets.
In a statement, US military spokesman Brigadier General Charles Cleveland disclosed that “the increase in strikes is due to the additional authorities US forces received and due to the Afghan change in strategy to offensive operations.” The statement goes on to say that “the new authorities have allowed the US to be more proactive and deliberate in supporting this year’s Afghan offensive operations and in aggressively targeting (Islamic State).”
With no end in sight for one of America’s longest wars, any decisions on the future of the I strikes, and the nearly 9,000 US troops who will remain in Afghanistan, will be up to the winner of the 8 November American presidential election. In a report release in October outlining challenges for the next president, a dozen former US military commanders and ambassadors to Afghanistan wrote that “it will be important to ask if the relaxation of rules of engagement that President Obama provided to American/NATO forces in Afghanistan in 2016 should go further, allowing even more substantial use of their air power against the Taliban.”
The United Nations reported on 20 June that the number of refugees and others fleeing their homes worldwide has hit a new record, spiking to 65.3 million people by the end of 2015.
According to the latest figures released by the UN, the number of people displaced globally rose by 5.8 million through 2015. The UN has indicated that counting Earth’s population at 7.349 billion, one out of every 113 people on the planet is now either internally displaced or a refugee. The agency has disclosed that they now number more than the populations of Britain or France, adding that it is “a level of risk for which UNHCR knows no precedent.”
While displacement figures have been rising since the mid 1990s, the rate of increase has jumped since the outbreak of Syria’s civil war in 2011. Of the planet’s 65.3 million displaced, 40.8 million remain within their own country while 21.3 million have fled across the borders and are now refuges. Palestinians are the largest group of refugees at more than five million. This includes those who fled at the creation of Israel in 1948 and their descendants. Syria is next on the list, with 4.9 million, followed by Afghanistan (2.7 million) and Somalia (1.1 million).
While Europe’s high-profile migrant crisis is the worst since World War II, it is just one part of a growing tide of human misery led by Palestinians, Syrians and Afghans. Globally, approaching one percent of humanity has been forced to flee. The UN refugee agency has disclosed that “this is the first time that the threshold of 60 million has been crossed.”
The figures, which were released on World Refugee Day, underscore twin pressures that are fuelling an unprecedented global displacement crisis. According to UNHCR chief Filippo Grandi, as conflict and persecution force growing numbers of people to flee, anti-migrant political sentiment has strained the will to resettle refugees, adding that “the willingness of nations to work together not just for refugees but for the collective human interest is what’s being tested today.”
A mixture of a number of factors have led to rising displacement and narrowing space for refugee settlement. The agency has disclosed that “situations that cause large refugee outflows are lasting longer,” including more than thirty years of unrest in both Somalia and Afghanistan. The UNHCR also indicated that news and intense conflicts as well as dormant crises that have been “reignited” are further fuelling the crisis, pointing to South Sudan, Yemen, Burundi, and the Central African Republic, side form Syria. The UNHCR also indicated that beyond the refugee hotspots in the Middle East and in Africa, there were also worrying signs in Central America, where growing numbers of people fleeing gang violence led to a 17 percent rise in those leaving their homes through 2015.
According to the United States State Department, there was a marked fall in the number of terror attacks that occurred around the world in 2015.
In a newly released report this month, the State Department attributed the 13% decline from 2014 to fewer attacks in Iraq, Nigeria and Pakistan, which are three of the five countries that have been the worst affected by terrorism. The other two are Afghanistan and India. Together, more than half of the 11,000 attacks that occurred last year happened within the borders of these five countries.
Data compiled by the University of Maryland indicates that more than 28,300 people died – a 14% decline – and about 35,300 others were wounded in 11,774 terrorist attacks that occurred worldwide last year. State Department Acting Co-ordinator for Counterterrorism Justin Siberell notes that attacks and deaths increased in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Egypt, the Philippines, Syria and Turkey. The State Department also reported that figures indicate that the terror threat “continued to evolve rapidly in 2015, becoming increasingly decentralized and diffused,” adding that extremists were exploiting frustration in countries “where avenues for free and peaceful expression of opinion were blocked.” The State Department highlighted that the so-called Islamic State (IS) group is the biggest single threat, adding that the group has attracted affiliates and supporters in Asia, Africa and the Middle East. It noted that while IS was losing territory in Iraq and Syria, it was gaining strength in Libya and Egypt. The United Nations has also warned that IS is increasingly focusing on international civilian targets. The UN has reported that over the past six months, IS had carried out attacks in eleven countries. This does not include the militant group’s ongoing activity in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria and Yemen.
The State Department report also disclosed that Iran was the biggest state sponsor of terrorism, stating that it supported conflicts in Syria and Iraq and that it was also implicated in violent Shia opposition raids in Bahrain. Bahrain has accused Iran of supplying weapons to Shia militants behind bomb attacks on security forces however Iran has denied this.