Surge in number of children killed or wounded in Afghan conflict
THE number of children killed or wounded in Afghanistan's conflict surged in the first half of 2016, compared with the same period last year, the United Nations mission in Afghanistan has said.
The daunting figures came in a mid-year report by Unama, released on Monday, just days after the deadliest bombing to hit Kabul since the insurgency began in 2001, following the US invasion to topple the Taliban's brutal regime.
On Saturday, at least 80 people were killed and 231 injured in a suicide attack on a peaceful demonstration of the Afghan minority Shiite Hazara community. Most of those killed were civilians.
The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the attack, fuelling concerns that the extremists, who have had a presence in the remote eastern border regions near Pakistan for the past year, plan to raise their profile in Afghanistan as they rack up losses in their heartlands in Iraq and Syria.
The figures from Saturday's attack are not part of Unama's report, which documents casualties between January 1 and June 30 this year.
The report says one-third of the casualties during those six months were children, with 388 killed and 1,121 wounded - a rise of 18 per cent on the first half of 2015.
Ahmad Shuja, Afghanistan researcher for New York-based Human Rights Watch, attributed the alarming rise in the number of deaths and injuries to children to a changing landscape of war.
Whereas the Taliban previously relied on hit-and-run tactics and the use of remotely-detonated explosives, now they engage in ground battles with government troops, and often deliberately target schools, community centrers and civilian homes, Mr Shuja told the Associated Press.
Mr Shuja, whose organisation was not involved in the Unama report but has done its own reports on children in conflict, said the New York-based watchdog found that Afghan security forces are also "often responsible for badly aimed artillery and mortar fire", contributing to the casualties.
The Unama report says the total number of civilian casualties in the first half of 2016 rose by 4 per cent to 5,166 - 1,601 killed and 3,565 wounded.
That is similar to the figures from the previous year, which was particularly bad as Afghan forces took the lead in fighting following the 2014 withdrawal of most international combat troops.
While 2015 saw the highest number of civilian casualties since 2009, when Unama started collating civilian casualties, numbers for this half-year were similar to last year.
Unama documented 5,166 civilian casualties - 1,601 killed and 3,565 wounded - marking a 1 per cent fall in civilian deaths and a 6 per cent rise in the number of wounded civilians.
Total civilian casualties were up 4 per cent, compared with the first half of last year, the report says.
Overall, Unama's report says that from January 1 2009 until June 30 2016 a total of 63,934 civilian casualties - 22,941 deaths and 40,993 wounded - have been recorded.
Unama also says that during the first half of this year, it recorded 157,987 "newly displaced" people, a 10 per cent increase of the same period last year, bringing the total estimate of people displaced by conflict to 1.2 million.