NEW YORK, USA: The number of Afghan Muslims killed in airstrikes carried out by the US and its allies has risen 330% since 2016, a US study revealed.
In 2019 alone, around 700 Muslims were killed, the Costs of War Project at Brown University says.
It is the highest figure since the first years of the US invasion following the 9/11 attacks in 2001.
The group attribute the rising figures to the US relaxing its rules of engagement in 2017.
Researchers say the increase in airstrikes was partly because there are fewer US troops on the ground, but also seemed to have the aim of putting more pressure on the Taliban to negotiate peace.
The US pulled back on airstrikes after reaching a deal with the Taliban in February 2020. It has also promised to reduce the number of troops in the country.
But the Costs of War Project found that the Afghan military has stepped up its own aerial attacks in the months since the US-Taliban agreement was made, as the government in Kabul remains in talks with the militant group.
The Afghan Air Force is now “harming more Afghan civilians than at any time in its history”, the group’s research paper says.
In the first six months of 2020, 86 civilians were killed and 103 injured in airstrikes by the Afghan military.
Last month, the Save the Children charity found that an average of five children has been killed or wounded every day for the past 14 years in Afghanistan.
Data from the UN showed at least 26,025 children were killed or maimed from 2005 to 2019, the group said.
“There were more weapons dropped from the air in 2018 and 2019 than at the height of US presence in Afghanistan in 2011,” the report stated.
The US, its allies, and the Afghan government killed an average of 582 civilians per year from 2007 to 2016. The annual average of civilians killed rose by nearly 95% from 2017 through 2019 to 1,134 each year.
After the US dropped the MOAB, Trump said, “We have the greatest military in the world, and they’ve done a job as usual. So we have given them total authorisation, and that’s what they’re doing. And frankly, that’s why they’ve been so successful lately.”
Crawford said the aim of relaxing the rules of engagement was to “gain leverage at the bargaining table.”
Following a peace deal between the US and the Taliban in February, airstrikes by the US and its international allies declined, which also led to a reduction in the harm to civilians caused by those strikes.
“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,” Crawford went on to say. “As a consequence, the AAF is harming more Afghan civilians than at any time in its history.”
Trump pledged to stop “endless wars” during his 2016 campaign and he’s moved to drastically reduce the number of US troops in Afghanistan before he leaves office in January. But the new Costs of War study suggests the war in Afghanistan in many ways only escalated for the Afghan people under Trump’s watch.