As Afghans enjoy a brief respite from violence during a rare cease-fire during the Muslim holy festival of Eid al-Fitr, government officials, Taliban, and international diplomats reflect on the human and material toll this impoverished country is enduring because of fighting.
Reports from around Afghanistan indicated that the three-day cease-fire that began on May 24 is holding across the country. The cessation of hostilities has raised hopes and prompted appeals that Kabul and the Taliban should extend the cease-fire in an effort to end a 42-year-old war that now only harms Afghans.
“I expect both leaders of the Afghan government and the Taliban not to escalate violence after Eid,” U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a May 24 statement. “This violence is counterproductive, deepens grievances, and prolongs the suffering of the Afghan people.”
In Afghanistan, the warring sides admit that the cease-fire is helping save hundreds of lives and millions of dollars in material damages and war costs daily.
“There is no doubt that fighting causes material and human losses to all sides,” Fawad Aman, a spokesman for the Afghan Defense Ministry told Radio Free Afghanistan. “The Afghan forces too frequently endure such losses.”
Afghan lawmakers estimate that on average the fighting is claiming more than 100 lives and upward of $13 million in costs daily.
“On average we see more than 100 people killed daily, which includes between 20 to 30 civilians,” lawmaker Mir Afzal Haidari, a member of the parliament’s defense committee, told Radio Free Afghanistan. “The annual cost of the war in Afghanistan is more than $5 billion annually, which means that we end up spending at least 13 million every day.”
The Afghan government frequently boasts about killing dozens or even hundreds of militants fighting for the Taliban, Islamic State, and other smaller hard-line Islamist groups. They, however, also confirm the reports of losses and deaths to Afghan forces and civilians.
The Taliban, on the other hand, also offer detailed claims of killing and capturing Afghan Army, police, and intelligence forces. Afghan civilians are frequently caught in the crossfire and also targeted in terrorist attacks by militants or air strikes by government forces.
Zabihullah Mujahid, a purported Taliban spokesperson, told Radio Free Afghanistan that their losses are at least 30 percent lower than those of the government forces. He says that on average between three to seven Taliban fighters are killed daily.
Currently tens of thousands of Taliban fighters are battling more than 300,000 Afghan security forces.
After the February 29 peace agreement between the Taliban and the United States, the insurgents have already ceased attacks on foreign forces, which means that all civilian and combatant deaths in the country are Afghan.
According to a New York Times tally of the casualty figures that the newspaper had confirmed, at least 256 government forces and 140 civilians were killed across Afghanistan during the first three weeks of this month.
In a May 19 statement, the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) noted an escalating trend of civilian casualties in Afghanistan last month.
“The Taliban were responsible for 208 civilian casualties in April, an increase of 25 per cent in comparison to April 2019 and at similar levels as March 2020,” UNAMA said citing preliminary findings. “Civilian casualties attributed to the ANSF [Afghan National Security Forces] for April 2020 numbered 172 civilians, an increase of 38 per cent compared to April 2019 and 37 per cent higher than March 2020.”
UNAMA says that the overall number of civilian casualties in Afghanistan is well beyond 100,000 during the decade after the organization began documenting civilian casualties in 2009.
"Almost no civilian in Afghanistan has escaped being personally affected in some way by the ongoing violence," Tadamichi Yamamoto, the UN secretary-general’s former special representative for Afghanistan, said in February. "It is absolutely imperative for all parties to seize the moment to stop the fighting, as peace is long overdue. Civilian lives must be protected and efforts for peace are under way."
Afghans have paid a very high price during the past 42 years after the war in Afghanistan began with a bloody communist coup in April 1978. More than 1 million Afghans have been killed and injured during the various phases of war while more than 10 million have been forced out of their homeland.