Afghans perform prayers at the funeral for the victims killed by an air strike called in to protect Afghan and US forces during a raid on suspected Taliban militants, in Kunduz, Afghanistan November 4, 2016.

© 2016 Reuters/Nasir Wakif

(Washington, DC) – The US Defense Department should promptly adopt measures to better protect civilians in the Afghanistan armed conflict, Human Rights Watch said in a letter to Defense Secretary James Mattis. The US government is currently conducting a review of its Afghanistan strategy and support to the Afghan government in its efforts against the Taliban, Al-Qaeda, and Islamic State-affiliated armed groups.

“Increasing numbers of civilian deaths and injuries from US airstrikes in Afghanistan raise concerns that the procedures for vetting airstrikes are inadequate,” said Brad Adams, Asia director. “The US review of its Afghan strategy is a crucial opportunity for adopting changes to minimize civilian casualties.” 

Increasing numbers of civilian deaths and injuries from US airstrikes in Afghanistan raise concerns that the procedures for vetting airstrikes are inadequate.

Brad Adams

Asia Director

Civilian casualties in Afghanistan have steadily risen in recent years, with 2016 seeing the highest toll recorded since 2008 with a total of 11,418 (3,498 deaths and 7,920 injured), according to the United Nations Assistance Mission to Afghanistan (UNAMA).  While the Taliban and other insurgent forces have caused most of these casualties through deliberate and indiscriminate attacks on civilians, casualties caused by US and Afghan forces have also been on the rise.

A recent UNAMA report shows that in 2016, aerial operations by US and Afghan government forces resulted in the deaths of 250 civilians and injuries to 340 others, which is nearly double the total from the previous year. Aerial operations remained the second leading cause of civilian casualties by Afghan government forces in 2016, causing 43 percent of civilian casualties. 

Most support for Afghan air operations has come from the US military, though Afghan civilian casualty tracking and mitigation measures are significantly lacking. NATO has provided guidance to the Afghan government in developing its own civilian casualty mitigation policy, which reportedly remains under review by Afghan authorities.