On Wednesday, the UN released its annual report on the situation in Afghanistan. It's even bleaker than you'd think: it was the most dangerous year for Afghan civilians since President Obama took office in 2009.
The above chart shows civilian casualties (civilians wounded and killed) during ground fighting every year since 2009, across five different UN-designated regions. The chart, via Gary Owen, really drives home how bad things have gotten. You see increases across the board, and a gigantic spike in the south especially.
The UN report gives a very clear reason civilian casualties spiked: the gradual winding down of US and NATO combat operations, which formally came to a close at the end of 2014.
"The drawdown of international military forces, in particular the reduction of combat air support to Afghan forces' ground troops, provided the Taliban and other anti-Government armed groups with more opportunities to launch large-scale ground operations in some areas," the UN report concludes.
The southern region saw the worst of the fighting, particularly in Helmand province. That was the focus of a Taliban campaign aimed at seizing what the UN describes as "large areas of territory which were previously — at least nominally — under government control."
While "government elements" (the Taliban and others opposed to the central Afghan government) were responsible for most of the civilian deaths, increased Afghan government operations are also partly to blame. "The ensuing fire fights and ground engagements often resulted in deaths and injuries to civilians — particularly women and children — caught in the crossfire," the report concludes.
Even for survivors, the surge in violence has had terrible consequences. The UN interviewed 60 women whose husbands had been killed in the fighting. "Poverty [forced] many women to give their daughters in marriage in exchange for debts or to take their children out of school often to work," the UN concluded. "Widowed women were often particularly vulnerable to other forms of violence and abuse from family and community members."
The American mission in Afghanistan may be over. But the war definitely isn't, and this chart suggests that, as the Taliban campaign to retake the country gains steam, things are only like to get worse.