U.N. report says Afghan civilian toll up 31 percent

U.N. report says Afghan civilian toll up 31 percent
# 10 August 2010 20:47 (UTC +04:00)
Baku-APA. Civilian casualties have risen by 31 percent in the first half of 2010, the United Nations mission in Afghanistan said on Tuesday, a much sharper rise than that estimated by an independent Afghan human rights body, APA reports quoting Reuters.
The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) said in its mid-year report that 1,271 civilians had been killed in conflict-related incidents in the first six months of 2010 and that insurgents were behind most of the casualties.
"We are very concerned about the future because the human cost of this conflict is being paid too heavily by civilian Afghans and that’s why this report is a wake-up call," Staffan de Mistura, the special representative of U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, told a news conference.
There were a total of 3,268 civilian casualties over the period, including 1,997 wounded, he said.
Deaths and injuries among children attributed to insurgents were up 55 percent from 2009, the report said, noting the use of more sophisticated improvised explosive devices throughout the country and a 95 percent increase in assassinations, most likely to scare ordinary people from cooperating, de Mistura said.
"Afghan children and women are increasingly bearing the brunt of the conflict," de Mistura said. "They are being killed and injured in their homes and communities in greater numbers than ever before."
The Taliban and other insurgents, described in the U.N. report as "anti-government elements" (AGEs), were responsible for 76 percent, or 2,477, of casualties.
The report found that there were 386 casualties attributed to "pro-government forces", down to 12 percent of the total from 30 percent the year before.
This was attributable mainly to a 64 percent fall in the number of deaths and injuries caused by aerial attacks, it said.
Civilian casualties caused by U.S. and other foreign forces have long been a source of friction between the Afghan government and its Western backers and led to a major falling-out between the two sides last year.
A spokesman for Afghan President Hamid Karzai said deaths caused by combatants on either side were indefensible.
"No aim, aspiration or vision, however sacred, legitimate or illegitimate, can justify the death of an innocent individual in Afghanistan," spokesman Waheed Omer told reporters.
The Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission on Sunday put the number of civilian deaths over the first seven months of the year at 1,325, a rise of what it said was only about six percent over the same period in 2009.
Mirroring the United Nations, it said about 68 percent of those deaths were caused by insurgents and about 23 percent by Afghan and international forces.
With anger rising over civilian casualties, General Stanley McChrystal, the former commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, last year issued a new tactical directive to limit the use of air strikes after a spate of deadly incidents involving civilians.
That directive has been tightened even further since General David Petraeus replaced McChrystal in June.
"We must continue our emphasis on reducing the loss of innocent civilian life to an absolute minimum," Petraeus said in his directive. "We know the measure by which our mission will be judged is protecting the population from harm by either side."
Citing foreign forces’ efforts to reduce casualties, de Mistura said the insurgents needed to think of the future and a political settlement in which they could play a part.
"If they want to be part of a future Afghanistan they cannot do so over the bodies of so many civilians," he said.