UN: Increase in Afghan civilian casualties
31 July 2013, 17:20
Kabul - Civilian casualties in the Afghan war rose 23% in the first half of this year due to Taliban attacks and increased fighting between insurgents and government forces, the UN said on Wednesday.
The increase reverses a decline in 2012 and raises questions about how Afghan government troops can protect civilians as US-led Nato troops withdraw from the 12-year war against the Taliban.
The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (Unama) said 1 319 civilians died and 2 533 were injured as a result of the war from 1 January to 30 June, up 23% on the same period in 2012.
Unama said there was a 14% increase in total civilian deaths and a 28% increase in total civilian injuries.
Female civilian casualties rose 61%, most caused by fighting on the ground between pro-government and insurgent forces, the UN said in a report.
Child casualties were up 30% with improvised explosive devices (IEDs), the Taliban weapon of choice, the leading cause.
"The rise in civilian casualties in the first half of 2013 reverses the decline recorded in 2012, and marks a return to the high numbers of civilian deaths and injuries documented in 2011," the report said.
The UN said 74% of the casualties were caused by insurgents, 9% by pro-government forces and 12% as a result of ground fighting between the two sides.
The remaining four or 5% of civilian casualties were unattributed, caused mainly by explosive remnants of war, it added.
While IED attacks remain the highest cause of civilian casualties, increased ground fighting between Afghan troops and insurgents was the second leading cause and a new trend in the first half of 2013.
The Taliban dismissed the report as propaganda.
"As usual, a report has been prepared and published by the Unama office in Kabul on the American demands which is totally biased," the militants said in a statement.
Nato combat mission
"We strongly reject this unfounded report and tell Unama that it will not succeed in this process of propaganda."
The UN director of human rights, Georgette Gagnon, told reporters in Kabul that the UN had invited the Taliban for talks on reducing civilian casualties, but with no result yet.
The Nato combat mission is due to close down at the end of 2014 and Afghan government forces have taken the lead in the battle against the Taliban, who were deposed in a US-led invasion in 2001.
"Despite Afghan forces leading almost all military operations countrywide, a permanent structure does not exist... to systematically investigate allegations of civilian casualties, initiate remedial measures and take follow-up action," the UN said.
The UN also recorded a 76% increase in civilian casualties as a result of insurgents targeting civilian government employees, government offices, district headquarters and other offices.
There was no immediate reaction from the Afghan government.
The UN report also recorded a sharp decline of 30% in the number of civilian casualties as a result of Nato air strikes, which in the past have been a source of considerable controversy.
The International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan welcomed the report and blamed the Taliban for nearly 90% of civilian casualties.
It said that "a number of positive steps" it had taken to reduce civilian casualties were having "a real result".
The UN report was released as Afghan President Hamid Karzai held talks with visiting US special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, James Dobbins, officials said.
The two men discussed flagging efforts to start peace talks with the Taliban and the prospect of a security deal between Kabul and Washington that would allow some US troops to remain beyond 2014.
On Tuesday, the Pentagon told Congress in a twice yearly report to lawmakers that the Afghan military is increasingly effective but will need considerable training and foreign aid in the future.
Residual American force
There have been signs of friction between President Barack Obama and Karzai, with Washington reportedly mulling a faster withdrawal of troops or even leaving no forces behind after 2014.
Half of the 68 000 US troops in Afghanistan are currently set to leave by February.
Karzai suspended talks on any future US military presence to protest against the manner in which a Taliban office opened in Qatar in June, billed initially as a step forward in peace efforts.
But last week he told top US military commander General Martin Dempsey that he was ready in principle to let a residual American force stay in the country beyond 2014.