New priorities for the Taliban

For the first time in six years, the number of civilian deaths in Afghanistan has dropped. At the same time, however, Taliban insurgents have increased their attacks on the government.

It is certainly good news that the latest United Nations figures show a decrease in civilian deaths, but the bad news is worse: a 700-percent increase in attacks on government employees last year in the capital, Kabul, according to the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA).

The UN has called it particularly worrisome that the Taliban has apparently been intentionally targeting women in the Afghan government. In Laghman province last December the female director of the Agency for Women’s Affairs was killed, just months after her deputy was murdered. General Ayub Salangi, the police chief in Kabul expressed his concern.

“It is very clear that women, as so-called ‘soft targets,’ are increasingly in the crosshairs of Afghanistan’s enemies. I hope that measures will be taken to prevent this in future,” he said.

Morale among government employees is still very high, according to Salangi, and they are not easily intimidated by a UN report.

“The people of Afghanistan have committed themselves to serving their country and will continue to do this in the future,” he said.

Taliban looking to sow fear

The UNAMA report lists 255 victims in government positions last year; in 2011, that figure was just 34. Faruq Bashar, a political analyst at Kabul University, believes the Taliban are trying to apply pressure by sowing fear.

“They want to use people’s concern about the international troop withdrawal in 2014 for their own purposes and demonstrate that the Afghan government and its security forces will no longer be capable, physically or mentally, to maintain order,” he said.

More than 2,754 civilians died in 2012 as a direct result of the war. Since the UN systematically began keeping figures in 2007, some 14,728 civilians have been killed from the ongoing violence.

The Taliban last year were responsible for 81 percent of the civilian victims – nine percent more than 2011. NATO-led troops and Afghan security forces were to blame for eight percent of the deaths and injuries among civilians, according to UNAMA. In total, there were 46 percent fewer civilian deaths in 2012, compared to 2011.

A signal for the warring factions

The UN special representative and head of UNAMA, Jan Kubis, emphasized at a press conference on Tuesday, February 19, that his organization wanted to make a point with this report.

“We produced the report, not just for producing a report, but we have seen a change. And we very much hope that our report on civilian casualties will have the same effect on all the parties concerned – the government, ISAF and also the insurgency, including the Taliban,” Kubis said.

Afghanistan’s independent human rights commission has backed the UN report after publishing its own survey on civilian casualties with similar results several months ago.

“According to our figures, some 19.6 percent fewer civilians were killed. Although the death of just one innocent person is too many, we are happy about this development and hope that the number will soon drop to zero,” said Shamsullah Ahmadzai, spokesman for the Kabul human rights commission.

Ahmadzai, however, warned against all too much optimism. The civilian figures had dropped, but that did not mean by a long shot that the insurgents had lost military capabilities. The Taliban, he said, have only changed their priorities.

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