A new report released by the Costs of War Project at Brown University shows that the number of civilians killed in airstrikes conducted by the U.S. and its allies in Afghanistan grew 330 percent between 2016 and the end of 2019. Last year alone, 700 civilians were killed in air attacks, the highest figure recorded since the early years of the war. The steady increase in deaths and last year's peak have been attributed to a change in the rules of engagement announced by then Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis in 2017. That allowed U.S. forces to target anti-government forces without being in direct contact with them. The change resulted in a sharp escalation in the air war and a considerable increase in the number of bombs being dropped. 947 munitions were released in 2015 and that climbed noticeably to 1,337 in 2016. By 2017, the figure was 4,361 and it surpassed 7,000 in 2018 and 2019.
1,357 civilians were killed in airstrikes by international forces between 2015 and the end of 2019 while a further 461 died due to air attacks carried out by the Afghan Air Force. The latter started playing a greater role in air attacks in 2015 and the report states that it is now harming more civilians than at any time in its history. While international air forces were responsible for the bulk of civilian deaths up to 2019, the Afghan Air Force has killed a higher number so far in 2020. 156 civilians have died in Afghan air strikes up to September of this year while 83 have died at the hands of international forces. The trend is considerably lower this year, however, primarily due to a peace deal signed with the Taliban. That excludes the Afghan government and that has prompted the increase in Afghan Air Force activity.
The report also provided an insight into the number of "condolence payments" given to Afghan civilians as compensation for deaths and injuries, the majority of which are believed to have been caused by airstrikes given dwindling activity by U.S. ground forces. Just over $2 million worth of "condolence payments" were given to civilians in 455 different transactions from 2015 to 2019. The highest figure was recorded in 2016 with $1.37 million handed over.