UN mission in Afghanistan finds children bear brunt of war

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — The number of children killed or wounded in Afghanistan’s conflict surged in the first half of 2016, compared to the same period last year, the United Nations mission in Afghanistan said on Monday.

The daunting figures came in a mid-year report by UNAMA, released just days after the deadliest bombing to hit Kabul since the insurgency began in 2001, following the U.S. invasion to topple the Taliban’s brutal regime.

On Saturday, at least 80 people were killed and 231 wounded 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, 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 heartland 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 that one-third of the casualties during those six months were children, with 388 killed and 1,121 wounded. That’s 18 percent more than during the first half of 2015.

The report also says that the total number of civilian casualties in the first half of 2016 rose by 4 percent, to 5,166 — 1,601 killed and 3,565 wounded.

That’s 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 one percent fall in civilian deaths and a six percent rise in the number of wounded civilians.

Total civilian casualties were up four percent, compared to the first half of last year, the report says.

Overall, UNAMA’s report says that from Jan. 1, 2009 until June 30, 2016, a total of 63,934 civilian casualties — 22,941 deaths and 40,993 wounded — have been recorded.