Afghan civilian casualties up 31 percent: UN

The number of civilian casualties in the Afghan war rose by a third in the first six months of 2010.

Kabul: The number of civilian casualties in the Afghan war rose by a third in the first six months of 2010, with insurgents killing seven times more civilians than NATO-led troops, a UN report said Tuesday.

Particularly alarming was a 55 percent increase in casualties among children and a 95 percent increase in assassinations of civilians at the hands of insurgents, warned the world body in its six-month update.

"We are worried. We are very concerned about the future because the human cost of this conflict is unfortunately being paid too heavily by the civilian Afghans," UN special envoy Staffan de Mistura told a news conference in Kabul.

"Afghan children and women are increasingly bearing the brunt of this conflict. They are being killed and injured in their homes and communities in greater numbers than ever before," De Mistura said.

Insurgents, who caused around half of civilian deaths in the same period last year, were now responsible for 76 percent of the 1,271 deaths and 1,997 people wounded, the report said.

"We have seen that 76 percent of the casualties are attributed and claimed by the anti-government elements," he said.

The report attributed the rising numbers to more frequent and sophisticated homemade bomb attacks and a 95-percent increase in the number of civilians assassinated by insurgents, which "included public executions of children."

Casualties attributed to Afghan government and US-led NATO forces fell 30 percent during the same period, driven by a 64-percent decline in deaths and injuries caused by air strikes, it said.

The comparative decrease in such casualties at the hands of foreign troops signalled at least some success for the US-led counter-insurgency strategy to safeguard civilians in a bid to turn the population against the Taliban.

Following the report the top US general in Afghanistan, David Petraeus, reaffirmed NATO`s commitment to protecting and serving the Afghan people.

"We must continue our emphasis on reducing the loss of innocent civilian life to an absolute minimum," he was quoted as saying in a statement.

The United States and NATO allies have boosted the overall number of foreign troops in Afghanistan to nearly 150,000 as part of a last-ditch attempt to reverse the Taliban momentum and speed an end to the nine-year conflict.

But the heartland of the Taliban insurgency has been in the south, where UN statistics showed that civilian casualties grew the most despite the expanding Western military deployment.

More than half of assassinations and executions occurred in the southern region, where more than 100 Afghan civilians were killed in such incidents.

De Mistura said that the number of targeted assassinations by militants had nearly doubled from the first half of 2009, including the killing of three candidates in parliamentary elections scheduled to be held on September 18.

Cheaply made improvised bombs, the Taliban`s weapon of choice, were becoming larger and more sophisticated, he said, and were responsible for 29 percent of all civilian deaths in the first six months of the year.

The United Nations urged the Taliban to withdraw all statements calling for the killing of civilians, to stop bomb and suicide attacks, cease acts of intimidation and stop using civilians as human shields.

It called on ISAF to make investigations into civilian casualties more transparent and improve compensation to victims.

But despite the reduced civilian casualties at the hands of NATO, Afghan analyst Haroon Mir said that in the eyes of the population the continued presence of foreign forces and an upsurge in fighting meant more trouble.

"The Taliban have killed more civilians... but it doesn`t matter who killed them, the impact is certainly negative," said Mir.

"Unfortunately we don`t see any hope that the intensity of the conflict will reduce because the Taliban have intensified their attacks and NATO will respond with military operations.

"Ordinary Afghans people are becoming more pessimistic about the outcome of the conflict."

Bureau Report