The past four years were among the deadliest for children in Afghanistan since the US-led invasion of 2001, with nearly 13,000 youngsters killed and injured in that period.
According to a new report by UN Secretary-General António Guterres on children and armed conflict in Afghanistan, 12,599 youngsters were killed or injured by fighting between 2015-2018 - 82 percent more than between 2011-2014. The report serves as a potent reminder that while so-called peace talks between the US and the Taliban are claimed to have made some progress, life for ordinary Afghans remains blighted by violence and hardship.
The global community should be disturbed by the scale, severity and recurrence of these grave violations endured by boys and girls in Afghanistan over recent years. The 17-page study, which bears Guterres’ name but was compiled by his special envoy on children in wartime, Virginia Gamba, says that youngsters made up almost a third of all civilian casualties in Afghanistan.
This includes those who were killed in schools by US-led airstrikes and bombings. They were also killed or maimed by fighting on the ground, improvised explosive devices, suicide bomb blasts, and from unexploded weapons that detonated unexpectedly after they were deployed.
Sadly, children in Afghanistan have known nothing but heart-breaking realities as a result of violence and US-led war and occupation. The number of child casualties is appalling, and the time is now to call on the US-led coalition to immediately put an end to the suffering of children.
The growing civilian death toll has mostly come as a direct consequence of US-led aerial attacks since 2015. Since the beginning of that year, some 1,049 children were killed or injured in attacks from the skies. In one extreme case, US helicopters in April 2018 fired rockets and heavy machine guns at an open-air graduation ceremony at a madrasa in Dasht-e Archi district of Kunduz province, killing at least 30 children and injuring 51 others.
While the protection and well-being of children can only be reached through long-term peace, the world community must seize all available opportunities to improve right now the protection of boys and girls in Afghanistan. The report comes after US and Taliban negotiators struck a draft peace deal last month aimed at leading to drawdowns of the 14,000 US troops and thousands of NATO troops in the landlocked, South Asian country. Still, the country is better off without US occupation and terror.
This is a reckless strategic failure that benefits no one - are no less applicable now than they were in 2001. Just as then, those against withdrawal show no sign of ever wanting this war to end. That stagnation is a telling indictment of what passes for foreign policy in Washington. Too many policymakers seem incapable, if not unwilling, of considering the big picture, of asking whether continuing this war is in any sense good, useful, or even in conformity with the will of the people they ostensibly represent.
President Trump, like President Obama before him, campaigned on shuttering reckless wars of choice, lambasting mission creep and the ineffectual nation building it so often entails. Yet neither president has pushed past the inertia of what’s been called the foreign policy “blob”. While the rest of the country is past ready to move on, the locus of Washington’s foreign policy conversation about Afghanistan is about the scale at which military intervention should continue forever, not whether it should continue at all.
There is no US-imposed, militarily enforced solution to Afghanistan’s woes, and indefinitely prolonging US occupation cannot and will not change that. The US government is trying to bomb and spend Afghanistan into a political order that can only be achieved by those who must live with the outcomes, both through promising diplomatic efforts led by the United Nations and through conversations among various factions of the Afghan people themselves.
Whatever course and time frame those negotiations may take, the business at hand for Washington remains the same: US military intervention and occupation in Afghanistan must come to an end. It’s the only way to save children from dying in the war-torn country.