0945 GMT February 28, 2021
US-brokered peace talks began in September but progress has since slowed and violence has risen with uncertainty over whether international forces will pull out troops by May as originally planned, Reuters reported.
Civilian casualties were 8,820 in 2020, according to the annual report of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA). That was 15% lower than the previous year, but the report’s authors noted with alarm a sharp uptick and historically high civilian casualties in the final three months of 2020, when peace talks began.
Last year “could have been the year of peace in Afghanistan. Instead, thousands of Afghan civilians perished,” said Deborah Lyons, head of UNAMA, reiterating calls for a cease-fire which has been repeatedly rejected by the Taliban. “Parties refusing to consider a cease-fire must recognize the devastating consequences.”
The Taliban on Tuesday issued a response critical of the report, saying “the concerns, precise information and accurate details that were shared by us have not been taken into account”.
The report said that for the first time since records began, deaths and injuries had escalated in the final three months of the year from the previous three months. Casualties for the fourth quarter were up 45% compared with the same period in 2019.
On Tuesday, Afghanistan began its first COVID-19 vaccinations, administering doses initially to security force members, health workers and journalists, in a campaign that may face challenges from the sharp rise in violence.
The war-damaged country received 500,000 doses of AstraZeneca’s vaccine from the Serum Institute of India (SII), which is producing the vaccine for mid- and low-income countries, earlier this month.
In a ceremony at the presidential palace, Acting Health Minister Waheed Majroh said the vaccines would be provided to 250,000 people, mostly from the security, health, education and media sectors.
Taliban militants have announced their backing for the vaccination campaign.