Feb 21, 2009

40 per cent increase in death of Afghan civilians

KABUL: The number of Afghan non-combatants killed in armed conflict rose 40 per cent last year to a record 2,118 people as the Afghan war turned increasingly bloody, the UN said in a new report on Tuesday. The report said insurgents were responsible for 55 per cent of the deaths, but that US, Nato and Afghan forces killed 829 civilians, or 39 per cent of those, 552 deaths were blamed on air strikes. Civilian deaths have been a huge source of friction between the US and President Hamid Karzai, who has increased demands that US troops avoid killing civilians. Close to 3,000 American forces who recently arrived in Afghanistan to secure two violent provinces near Kabul have begun operations, and their commander admitted that civilian casualties could increase because of their presence. The Pentagon is contemplating sending up to an additional 30,000 US troops this year, a development that could also increase civilian casualties. The US and Afghan militaries this month announced plans to increase the number of Afghans who will take part in US operations, a step aimed at reducing deaths of ordinary Afghans.The UN’s annual report on the protection of civilians noted that despite new battlefield rules meant to reduce civilian casualties, US, Nato and Afghan troops killed 31 per cent more civilians in 2008 than in 2007, when the UN said those forces killed 629 civilians. 'As the conflict has intensified, it is taking an increasingly heavy toll on civilians,' the UN said. Militants increasingly rely on roadside bombs, car bombs and suicide bombers, attacks that are 'frequently undertaken regardless of the impact on civilians,' the report said. Two attacks highlighted that trend — a February suicide bombing at a dog fight in Kandahar that the UN said left 67 civilians dead, and a July car bomb attack on the Indian Embassy that killed 55 civilians. Military leaders have long sought to emphasise how militant attacks kill far more civilians than the soldiers or officials usually targeted. The UN also said 38 aid workers were killed last year — double the number slain in 2007 — and 147 were kidnapped. US, Nato and Afghan operations also have resulted in an increase in civilian casualties, 'notwithstanding efforts to implement policies and procedures to minimise the impact of their operations on civilians', the report said. It noted a US mission in August in Azizabad that the UN says killed 92 civilians, including 62 children. A US investigation says 33 civilians were killed. Nato spokesman Maj Martin O’Donnell said civilian casualty numbers compiled by the Nato-led force and the separate US coalition showed their forces killed 237 civilians last year. He said the UN numbers could be higher because they included deaths caused by Afghan forces and private security firms.

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