Afghanistan war: Tracking the killings in August 2019

Afghanistan war: Tracking the killings in August 2019

An average of 74 men, women and children were killed every day in Afghanistan throughout the month of August, the BBC has found.

The findings show unrelenting violence affects almost the entire country as US negotiations to withdraw after 18 years of war are in disarray.

We confirmed 611 security incidents in which 2,307 people died.

Both the Taliban and Afghan government have questioned the validity of the casualty figures identified by the BBC.

Most people killed were combatants – including more Taliban fighters than expected – but a fifth were civilians.

A further 1,948 people were injured.

The casualty toll is just a snapshot of the situation on the ground in Afghanistan. However, it paints a bleak image as US President Donald Trump looks to fulfil a key foreign policy aim and withdraw American troops.

Just more than a week ago, President Trump cancelled year-long peace negotiations between the Taliban and United States, although a return to talks is not ruled out.

A ceasefire, however, was never on the table, and hundreds of Afghans are still dying each week. There are fears that violence will worsen ahead of presidential elections due at the end of the month.

To learn how the BBC collected its data in August, scroll to the end.

Thirty-one days of killing

Following a violent first week in August, both Taliban and government forces observed an unofficial ceasefire during the three days of the Muslim festival of Eid al-Adha.

Nonetheless, the BBC confirmed 90 people died in violence during the holiday period, from the evening of 10 August to sunset on 13 August.

The highest number of casualties occurred on 27 August, with 162 confirmed dead and 47 injured, primarily Taliban fighters in air strikes.

But the deadliest day for civilians was 18 August, when 112 people lost their lives. Most died in a single incident when a suicide bomber killed 92 people and injured 142 at a wedding in Kabul.

The groom Mirwais, a tailor from a working-class district, had struggled to save for the event that should have been the happiest day of his life.

Instead, several of his closest friends were killed. His new bride lost several cousins and a brother. Mirwais says that she now wants to burn her wedding dress and photo album.

He told the BBC, “all my hopes and all my joy was destroyed in one second”.

The Islamic State group said it carried out the attack.

Who is most affected?

The Taliban have never been more powerful since 2001, but their fighters account for nearly half of all deaths confirmed by the BBC for August – a huge number, which comes as a surprise.

There may be a number of factors for this, including the fact the Taliban have been on the offensive during peace talks, and US-led forces have increased air strikes and night raids in response, killing many Taliban as well as civilians.

How many fighters the Taliban has lost in recent years is not known. It’s thought they may have about 60,000 men under arms.

In a statement the Taliban said it strongly rejected “the baseless allegations” of the killing of 1,000 fighters in the past month, adding that there was no document that could prove “casualties to that scale”.

It described the BBC’s report as “based on the daily propaganda of interior and defence ministries of Kabul administration”.

Afghan security force casualties are top secret – so our own confirmed counts for August may still be lower than reality. In January Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said 45,000 members of the security forces had been killed since late 2014.

The Afghan Ministry of Defence said the research needed “a serious review and a more serious research based on ground realities must be conducted”.

The BBC confirmed that 473 civilians had been killed and 786 injured in August.

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“The conflict has a devastating impact on civilians,” says Fiona Frazer, human rights chief for the UN mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA).

“United Nations data strongly indicates that more civilians are killed or injured in Afghanistan due to armed conflict than anywhere else on Earth.

“Although the number of recorded civilian casualties are disturbingly high, due to rigorous methods of verification, the published figures almost certainly do not reflect the true scale of harm.”

The US and Afghan militaries routinely deny or fail to report civilian casualty figures.

What does the conflict look like?

Large events, like the battle for the northern city of Kunduz or the Kabul wedding bombing, are the ones that make international headlines.

Yet most of Afghanistan’s deadly conflict is persistent, small-scale violence, typically between Afghan security forces and the Taliban.

In only three of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces was the BBC unable to confirm fatalities in August.

One in 10 deaths occurred in the province of Ghazni, a restive area and a centre of Taliban control, and therefore a key target of Afghan military operations.

One-third of the 66 attacks in Ghazni were airstrikes on suspected Taliban locations.

Afghan civilians describe living in an environment of extreme uncertainty.

Mohibullah from Uruzgan province spoke to the BBC in Kandahar’s main hospital after doctors extracted a bullet from his brother’s shoulder.

“Whenever there’s an operation in our area, ordinary people can’t move anywhere, if they do, American or Afghan forces shoot them,” he said angrily.

“They drop bombs wherever they want, all the houses around us have been destroyed.”

The deadliest conflict in the world?

The war in Afghanistan has gone on for four decades, and has been at a stalemate for a number of years.

Late last year, the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED) pronounced Afghanistan the most lethal conflict in the world for battle-related deaths.

Their casualty data for 2019 shows Afghanistan maintaining that position. Fatalities in August in Afghanistan are three times higher than either Syria or Yemen, according to ACLED data.

And in June 2019, Afghanistan was named the least peaceful place in the world by the Global Peace Index report.

How the BBC gathered its data

The BBC collected more than 1,200 reports of violent incidents in Afghanistan between 1-31 August 2019.

BBC Afghan journalists traced every reported incident, from those that often wouldn’t make it to news headlines to major attacks. To verify reports and chase up tip-offs, the BBC used its extensive on-the-ground team to contact multiple sources across Afghanistan including government officials, health workers, tribal elders, local residents, eye witnesses, hospital records and Taliban sources. A minimum of two reliable sources was required to confirm an event. Confirmed casualties from hospital reports were considered reliable even without secondary sourcing.

Only the lowest-confirmed casualty counts were recorded. If a range of casualties was given (eg 10-12), the minimum figure was considered the most reliable. If multiple sources provided conflicting figures for an incident, the minimum reliable number was included and the rest dropped. As a result, hundreds of reports were excluded and the true number of attacks and casualties could be much higher.

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