Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs
Costs of War

Afghanistan's Rising Civilian Death Toll Due to Airstrikes, 2017-2020

Afghan villagers stand over bodies of civilians during a protest in the city of Ghazni, west of Kabul, Afghanistan, Sept. 29, 2019. An airstrike by U.S.-led forces in eastern Afghanistan killed at least five civilians. (AP Photo/Rahmatullah Nikzad)

The United States military in 2017 chose to relax its rules of engagement for airstrikes in Afghanistan, which resulted in a massive increase in civilian casualties. From the last year of the Obama administration to the last full year of recorded data during the Trump administration, the number of civilians killed by U.S.-led airstrikes in Afghanistan increased by 330 percent.

This report reveals the price that Afghan civilians have paid for all parties’ escalation of violence in their attempts to gain leverage in talks between the United States and the Taliban. The data demonstrates that, compared to the previous 10 years, there was a 95 percent increase in civilians killed by U.S. and allied forces’ airstrikes between 2017 and 2019. Further, during the period of intra-Afghan talks, the Afghan Air Force has killed more civilians than at any point in its history. In 2018 alone, 3,800 Afghan civilians were killed by airstrikes.