The United Nations said Tuesday it has documented a significant level of civilians killed and wounded in attacks in Afghanistan since the Taliban takeover — despite a stark reduction in casualties compared to previous years of war and insurgency.
According to a new report by the U.N. mission in Afghanistan, or UNAMA, since the takeover in mid-August 2021 and until the end of May, there were 3,774 civilian casualties, including 1,095 people killed in violence in the country.
That compares with 8,820 civilian casualties — including 3,035 killed — in just 2020, according to an earlier U.N. report.
The Taliban seized the country in August 2021 while U.S. and NATO troops were in the final weeks of their withdrawal from Afghanistan after two decades of war.
According to the U.N. report, three-quarters of the attacks since the Taliban seized power were with improvised explosive devices in “populated areas, including places of worship, schools and markets,” the report said. Among those killed were 92 women and 287 children.
A press statement from the U.N. that followed Tuesday’s report said the figures indicate a significant increase in civilian harm resulting from IED attacks on places of worship — mostly belonging to the minority Shiite Muslims — compared to the three-year period prior to the Taliban takeover.
The statement also said that at least 95 people were killed in attacks on schools, educational facilities and other places that targeted the predominantly Shiite Hazara community.
The statement said that the majority of the IED attacks were carried out by the region’s affiliate of the Islamic State group — known as the Islamic State in Khorasan Province — a Sunni militant group and a main Taliban rival.
“These attacks on civilians and civilian objects are reprehensible and must stop,” said Fiona Frazer, chief of UNAMA’s Human Rights Service. She urged the Taliban — the de facto authorities in Afghanistan — to “uphold their obligation to protect the right to life” of the Afghan people.
However, the U.N. report said a “significant number” of the deaths resulted from attacks that were never claimed or that the U.N. mission could not attribute to any group. It did not provide the number for those fatalities.
The report also expressed concern about “the lethality of suicide attacks” since the Taliban takeover, with fewer attacks causing more civilian causalities.
It noted that the attacks were carried out amid a nationwide financial and economic crisis. With the sharp drop in donor funding since the takeover, victims are struggling to get access to “medical, financial and psychosocial support” under the current Taliban-led government, the report said.
Frazer said that even though Afghan “victims of armed conflict and violence struggled to access essential medical, financial and psychosocial support” prior to the takeover, this has become more difficult after the Taliban took power.
“Help for the victims of violence is now even harder to come by because of the drop in donor funding for vital services,” she added.
The U.N. report also demanded an immediate halt to attacks and said it holds the Taliban government responsible for the safety of Afghans.
The Taliban said their administration took over when Afghanistan was “on the verge of collapse” and that they “managed to rescue the country and government from a crisis” by making sound decisions and through proper management.
In a response, the Taliban-led foreign ministry said that the situation has gradually improved since August 2021. “Security has been ensured across the country,” the statement said, adding that the Taliban consider the security of places of worship and holy shrines, including Shiite sites, a priority.
Despite initial promises in 2021 of a more moderate administration, the Taliban enforced harsh rules after seizing the country. They banned girls’ education after the sixth grade and barred Afghan women from public life and most work, including for nongovernmental organizations and the U.N.
The measures harked back to the previous Taliban rule of Afghanistan in the late 1990s, when they also imposed their strict interpretation of Islamic law, or Sharia. The edicts prompted an international outcry against the already ostracized Taliban, whose administration has not been officially recognized by the U.N. and the international community.