KABUL (Dispatches) – The number of Afghan civilians killed in air strikes carried out by the U.S. and its allies has risen 330% since 2017, a U.S. study says.
In 2019 alone, around 700 civilians were killed, the Costs of War Project at Brown University says. It is the highest figure since the first years of the U.S.-led invasion following the 9/11 attacks in 2001.
The group says the rising figures are attributed to the U.S. relaxing its rules of engagement in 2017, a policy introduced by the U.S. President Donald Trump administration.
"The total number of civilians killed by international and Afghan Air Force airstrikes increased. International military forces, led by the U.S., are responsible for the majority of those killed by airstrikes from 2015 through 2019: 1,357 killed by international forces, compared to 461 killed by the AAF [Afghan Air Force],” according to the research study.
"The number of civilians killed by international airstrikes increased about 330 percent from 2016 — the last full year of the Obama Administration — to 2019, the most recent year for which there is complete data from the United Nations,” the study said.
In 2019, the study added, international airstrikes killed 700 civilians in Afghanistan, which marked the largest figure compared to any other year since the U.S.-led military invasion of the country began in 2001.
"The Afghan government is now negotiating with the Taliban and as part of a broader offensive, perhaps aimed at increasing Afghan government leverage in the talks, airstrikes by the Afghan Air Force (AAF) have increased. As a consequence, the AAF is harming more Afghan civilians than at any time in its history,” the study further explained.
The development comes as Afghanistan’s government and the Taliban militant group reached a preliminary deal last week that sets out rules for further talks, the first written agreement between the two sides since the U.S.-led invasion of 2001.
The intra-Afghan talks were set to take place in March, but were repeatedly delayed over a prisoner exchange agreement made as part of the February deal between the United States and the Taliban.
Under the deal, the Taliban agreed to halt their attacks on foreign forces in return for the U.S. military’s phased withdrawal from Afghanistan and the prisoner exchange with Kabul.