UK forces killed between 64 & 135 children in Afghanistan in eight years, says anti-war group 

During this period, the UK acknowledged the death of only 16 children. The report by Action on Armed Violence, an anti-war group, confirms the general trend of NATO countries underreporting the number of civilian casualties caused in their operations abroad

November 10, 2022 by Peoples Dispatch
UK forces in Afghanistan
British soldiers in Afghanistan. Photo: By Efren Lopez, U.S. Air Force

British forces alone were responsible for killing anywhere between 64 to 135 Afghan children in the nine years between 2006 and 2014, against the officially acknowledged number of 16, a report published by UK-based human rights group Action on Armed Violence (AOAV) revealed. 

AOAV claimed that its figures are based on calculating the amount paid by the UK military as compensation to its war victims. The report claims that the UK forces paid an average of 1,656 pounds (USD 1,894) to each of the victims. The AOAV analyzed documents of compensation dispersal obtained through freedom of information requests.    

As per the report, even the “lower number is four times more than” the previously acknowledged figure of 16 by the UK’s Ministry of Defense. Most of these children were killed in air raids carried out by the NATO forces, of which the UK is a part. AOAV claims that most of the deaths were caused by “consequences of poor targeting, over use of heavy weaponry or fighting in populated areas,” and were not results of deliberate targeting. 

Underreporting to avoid criticism and accountability 

Thousands of civilians lost their lives in the war in Afghanistan, beginning with the US-led NATO invasion in 2001. Though there is no single verified figure of the total civilian casualties in Afghanistan between 2001 and 2021 when all foreign troops left the country. According to one estimate, close to 47,000 civilians were killed in this period. According to the Brown University’s Cost of War project, the combined areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan have seen the killing of at least 70,000 civilians since 2001. 

Estimates of the number of children killed in Afghanistan since the NATO-led invasion in 2001 also vary. In 2021, UNICEF claimed that at least 28,500 children have been killed in Afghanistan since 2005. According to Save the Children, the figure is even higher at 33,000, and at least one child has been killed in Afghanistan every five hours since 2001. Both UNICEF and Save the Children do not specify who was responsible for these killings.    

According to the UN, between 2017 and 2020, when the NATO and Afghan forces increased their air raids in the country, at least 2,122 civilians were killed and over 1,855 were injured in just the air raids. This does not include casualties caused in operations by ground forces.  

At least 1,600 of these casualties between 2017 and 2020 were of children. Majority of those casualties (57%) were caused by NATO-led international forces which included the British. The deadliest year for children in Afghanistan was 2018, when a total of 236 children were killed and another 256 were injured in air raids.  

Many have raised questions about attempts to suppress the actual number of civilian casualties caused by NATO forces including the US and the UK, in their operations particularly in Afghanistan and Iraq. It is claimed that such a strategy is adopted in order to minimize accusations of war crimes, which is crucial for maintaining domestic support for foreign operations, and to avoid questions regarding the efficiency of their armed forces. There are also questions on avoiding action against those responsible for killing civilians.