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UN Security Council report – more bleak reading…

March 26, 2021

UN Security Council Report A/75/811-S/2021/252, dated 12 Mar. 2021

The United Nations Security Council published its regular update on the security situation in Afghanistan: The Situation in Afghanistan and its implications for international peace and security.  It addresses UN activities in Afghanistan, including political, humanitarian, development and human rights issues.

As ever, there some pretty stark pieces of information within the document.  Security incidents in 2020 were at an all-time high, including increased amount of targeted killings.  Humanitarian needs were also at a record high due to security situation, natural disasters and food insecurity.

Security situation

The year 2020 saw a record number of incidents – 25,180.  This is a ten per cent increase from 2019 (22,832).  This is the highest level since UN began recording in 2007.  The number of air strikes have declined by 44% but armed clashes rose by 18%.  IED detonations rose by 32% and assassinations by 27%.

The period from November 2020 to February 2021 saw a 47% increase in security-related incidents compared to the same period a year earlier.  Anti-Government Elements (AGEs – meaning primarily the Taliban but also other groups, including Islamic State, Al Qaeda, the Haqqani Network and other smaller groups) caused 86% of all incidents.  Most of the incidents in the south, followed by the east and north – Helmand and Kandahar in the south, Nangarhar in the east and Balkh in the north together account for 69% of all incidents.

In Kabul city there were 35 suicide attacks between Nov 2020 and Feb 2021 (42 at the same period a year earlier).

There have been no significant territorial advances gains by any side.  The Taliban maintains pressure on the transport routes and urban centres – particularly vulnerable provincial capitals Kunduz, Farah, Helmand and Kandahar. 

Contrary to positive statements about the demise of Islamic State from the US and Afghan governments last year, Islamic State’s presence increased: 25 attacks were recorded, compared to 11 at same time last period (9 Dec 2020).  The main areas of operation were in eastern Afghanistan, in Nangarhar, Kunar and Laghman.  Islamic State conducted two rocket attacks against Kabul city.

Human Rights

There were 8,820 civilian casualties in 2020.  This represents a 13% decrease from 2019, primarily because there were fewer casualties from suicide bomb attacks and airstrikes.  But there has bene an increase casualties from targeted killings, IEDs and airstrikes in last quarter of 2020.  The last quarter of 2020 saw a 45% increase in civilian casualties compared to last quarter of 2019.

There continue to be serious casualties inflicted against children – last quarter of 2020 saw 837 “grave violations”.  In addition, the UN verified the recruitment and use of 33 boys, 25 by the Taliban and 8 by pro-government militia, as well as the abduction of 12 children by the Taliban and 1 by government militia.

There were 17 attacks on schools (a decrease from 25 in 3rd quarter of 2020), but atacks on hospitals tripled.  There were 39 verified attacks – against 13 in 3rd quarter

86 cases of violence against women were recorded from Nov 2020 to Jan 2021

Torture and ill-treatment

A 3 Feb 6th UNAMA report based on 656 interviews with those suspected of security and terrorism-related offences concluded that torture allegations are prevalent and that there was a “widespread disregard for the procedural rights of detainees”.

There were increasing security threats against human rights activists and journalists by targeted killings.

Humanitarian assistance

Humanitarian needs continue to rise because of the three main factors: the violence levels, natural disasters and growing food insecurity.  All of these problems are exacerbated by the COVID pandemic.  Approximately 18.4 million people need humanitarian assistance in 2021 (this is an increase from 9.4 million in beginning of 2020). 

COVID pandemic – 55,000 are confirmed to have contracted, but the number is likely to be much higher.  Patients are not receiving basic health services, the system overwhelmed and many stay away from health facilities through fear of contracting the virus.  Polio cases increasing – 56 in 2020, 29 in 2019 – polio has now spread to 14 provinces, indicating a declining immunity in the population.

There are significant levels of food insecurity.  In March 2021 16.9 million – a little under half of the population of Afghanistan – are assessed to be at “crisis” or “emergency” levels – 5.5 million of whom are at emergency levels of food insecurity.  This is the second highest number in the world.  Half of the children under five years old will face malnutrition in 2021.  The already poor food situation could worsen – there is likelihood of low rainfall and high temperatures from La Nina weather conditons.

In 2020 the highest annual number of undocumented returnees arrived back in Afghanistan.  Of 870,000 in total, 860,000 came back from due to COVID, related restrictions, limited access to health care and deteriorating economic circumstances.  In 2020, 400,000 Afghans were displaced by the conflict inside the country.  The UN notes that the 2020 Humanitarian Response Plan was only 49% funded by the end of 2020, leaving a shortfall of $573 million.

UN observations

This is all pretty bleak reading.  The document records a lot of the politics – Doha, talks with the Taliban, international discussions, government reorganisations without any significant comment.  The Taliban’s failure to include any women in their negotiating team is commented upon:

“…a Taliban spokesperson justified the absence of women from the Taliban negotiating team by arguing that women did not fight in the war.”

Some selected quotes from the UN Secretary General at the end of this paper. 

“outraged” by targeted killings,

“worsening security situation is of deep concern”,

“civilians continue to bear the brunt of the conflict”,

“the peace process has not yet improved conditions for Afghan civilians”

“UNAMA documenting an increase in civilian casualties since the start of the Afghanistan peace negotiations”

“deeply disturbed by the allegations of torture and ill-treatment Afghan detention facilities”

Long way to go.

One Comment leave one →
  1. March 26, 2021 3:01 pm

    I looked at the web page of the Swedish Committee for Afghanistan (SCA) to see if they were still in business. They are, but this press release:
    “Forty-two health facilities run by SCA in Wardak closed by Taliban”
    17 JULY
    Following last week’s deadly attack by ANSF forces in Wardak against The Swedish Committee for Afghanistan (SCA) the Taliban have forced SCA to close all health clinics and a hospital in Wardak province. This affects provision of health services to hundreds of thousands of people, particularly women and children. END

    This particularly saddens me because I did a review of two hospitals in Wardak and was impressed by the Afghan and international leadership there.

    The SCA are maintaining their other operations and opening others that were forced to be closed for a while, all this during the COVID pandemic. Wonderful people…

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