The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) and the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) on Saturday stated that preliminary findings put the civilian casualty toll from the Kunduz city crisis two months ago at 848 – 289 dead and 559 injured.
UNAMA on Saturday released its Human Rights and Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict in Kunduz province report, which documents civilian harm and human rights concerns in Kunduz province from 28 September to 13 October 2015 – the period covering the Taliban’s attack and temporary occupation of Kunduz city.
The report not only documents civilian deaths and injuries during the reporting period but also presents preliminary findings on arbitrary killings, abductions, assault and other forms of violence, including threats and widespread criminality, the use of child fighters during the conflict, the impact on access to education, health, and freedom of movement.
The report provides a preliminary figure of 848 civilian casualties (289 deaths and 559 injured) that occurred in Kunduz province between 28 September and 13 October.
According to UNAMA: “The vast majority of these casualties resulted from ground fighting that could not be attributed solely to one party.”
They said these figures include 67 casualties (30 deaths and 37 injured) resulting from an airstrike carried out by international military forces on a Médecins Sans Frontières hospital on 3 October.
The report also addresses key human rights concerns that arose during what was the first prolonged urban combat situation in Afghanistan since 2001, and outlines key recommendations to mitigate civilian casualties and protect civilians from harm, promote respect for international human rights and humanitarian law, and promote accountability.
In the early hours of 28 September, the Taliban launched an attack against Kunduz city, the provincial capital of Kunduz province, in the north-eastern region of Afghanistan. Sources interviewed by UNAMA consistently described the attack as appearing to be well-planned, with the Taliban encountering little resistance as they entered and occupied the city center and pushed Afghan security forces back to positions at Kunduz airport.
“Once inside the city, the Taliban immediately freed over 600 male prisoners from the Kunduz prison, allegedly providing some with weapons, and thereby enabling them to join the fight against Afghan security forces,” read the report.
In the days following the Taliban capture of the city, Afghan security forces, with the assistance of international military forces, launched a counter-attack. By mid-day on 1 October, the government claimed to have re-captured large parts of the city. However, fighting continued for almost two weeks as Afghan security forces, with the assistance of international military forces, attempted to dislodge Taliban fighters from positions in the north, east and west of the city.
“During the attempt to re-take Kunduz, on 3 October, international military forces carried out an airstrike on the MSF hospital in Kunduz city, killing and injuring large numbers of patients and hospital staff,” read the report.
Heavy fighting between Afghan security forces and Taliban continued until 13 October when the Taliban formally announced their withdrawal from Kunduz city.
During the siege, UNAMA received several reports of individual incidents of targeted and deliberate killings during the attack on and subsequent occupation of the city. “UNAMA received conflicting reports of violence against women and girls carried out by armed men. These reports are not yet verified, but provide an indication of the levels of fear, instability and insecurity prevalent in Kunduz city during the Taliban’s occupation of the city, particularly the first week,” read the report.
Throughout the Taliban occupation of Kunduz city, an estimated 150,000 residents remained in their homes, unable to flee due to heavy fighting in parts of the city, fear of leaving their home, and poverty (residents could not afford the transportation costs). Those remaining in the city consistently reported severe food shortages or unaffordable food, lack of clean water and no electricity, said UNAMA.
“The violence also led to the displacement of over 13,000 families to different parts of the country,” they added.
However, UNAMA stated that at the onset of their operations, the Taliban issued public statements indicating that civilians, including government workers, would not be harmed.
In the ‘Statement by the Leader of Islamic Emirate concerning liberation of Kunduz city’, published on the Taliban website on 28 September, the Taliban explicitly directed its fighters to “safeguard the lives, property and honor of the respected citizens of the city of Kunduz” and to prevent looting and protect the civilian population. The statement reassured citizens about their property and security and directed that “all traders, workers, staff of hospitals, municipality and governing bodies should continue their daily routines without any fear or intimidation.”
The Taliban issued a separate “Statement by Commission for Control and Administration of NGOs and Companies” on the same day, calling “all workers of NGOs, private companies and Telecommunication Networks to continue their work normally”. The statement included contact numbers for a “Main Branch” and “Kunduz Branch” to resolve any issues preventing them from performing their regular functions.
Despite these early statements, individuals interviewed by UNAMA described a different reality on the ground. “Sources confirmed that some Taliban fighters and/or opportunistic criminals entered and ransacked the UNAMA Kunduz office, as well as the offices of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission, several local and international NGOs, media outlets, and the Department of Women’s Affairs and other Government offices. In some cases, the Taliban reportedly removed confidential documents from these offices, and generally looted assets and equipment, including NGO, United Nations and humanitarian organizations’ vehicles,” read the report.
UNAMA confirmed Taliban and criminal elements had stolen vehicles, but in at least one instance, Taliban had returned a stolen vehicle to a humanitarian international organization.
UNAMA also received reports referring to some Taliban fighters protecting property and of a Taliban commander ordering a halt to the attacks on the premises of a specific agency.
In addition, UNAMA said it received consistent, credible reports that the Taliban used large numbers of child soldiers during the attack on Kunduz.
UNAMA sources indicated that medical facilities in Kunduz treated ‘at least 200’ injured child fighters between 28 September and 13 October. Most of them are boys and are reportedly aged between 10 and 17.
“Credible sources reported that many of the boys complained that they had been forced to take up arms by Taliban who threatened that their families would be harmed if they refused. One witness reported seeing a child soldier being shot by Taliban as he was trying to escape,” read the report.
To read the full report click here: