Afghan civilian deaths hit new high
KABUL — Last year was the deadliest yet for civilians in the Afghan war with a 15 percent jump in the death toll, the UN said in a report Wednesday which laid bare the conflict’s impact on ordinary people.
The 2,777 deaths underscore the level of violence in the country as foreign troops prepare to start handing control of security to Afghan forces in some areas from July ahead of a full transition due by 2014.
Insurgents were responsible for 75 percent of all civilian deaths, up 28 percent on 2009, the figures said.
That compared to 16 percent for international and Afghan government forces, down 26 percent on the previous year, while responsibility for the remaining deaths could not be attributed.
Large numbers of children and women were among the dead — 1,175 and 555 respectively.
The issue of civilian deaths caused by coalition forces, long a thorny question for the US-led troops, is particularly sensitive in Afghanistan at the moment.
Last week, nine young boys were mistakenly killed while out collecting firewood in an air strike in eastern Afghanistan.
President Hamid Karzai rejected a rare public apology over the incident from General David Petraeus, the US commander of troops in Afghanistan, while US Defense Secretary Robert Gates also said he was sorry during a visit to the country on Monday.
Air strikes by pro-government forces killed 171 people, according to the report released by the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) and the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC).
As it was published, Staffan de Mistura, the UN special representative in Afghanistan, issued an appeal to all combatants for civilian casualties to be reduced.
“While we’re sending a strong message to the Taliban and anti-government forces, we’re also requesting and reminding the international forces one civilian victim is one too many,” he said.
“Let’s not forget that the whole purpose of the international engagement in Afghanistan is protection of civilians.”
He also urged the Taliban, who he predicted would “be complaining bitterly” about the figures, to contribute to next year’s report.
Overall, the figures indicate that the average number of Afghan civilians killed in the war last year stood at nearly eight per day and was nearly four times higher than the 2010 death toll for international troops, which stood at 711, according to independent website iCasualties.org.
“In a year of intensified armed conflict, with a surge of activity by pro-government forces and increased use of improvised explosive devices and assassinations by anti-government elements, Afghan civilians paid the price with their lives in even greater numbers in 2010,” said Ivan Simonovic, the UN’s assistant secretary-general for human rights.
A UN spokesman in Kabul confirmed that the civilian death toll was the highest since the Taliban were ousted by a US-led invasion in 2001, triggering an insurgency fought with increasing intensity in recent years.
An extra 30,000 troops were sent to Afghanistan in a bid to break the Taliban following an announcement by US President Barack Obama in December 2009.
Suicide attacks and improvised explosive devices (IEDs) were the biggest killers in 2010, taking the lives of 1,141 people or 55 percent of all those killed by insurgents, the report said.
It also revealed that 462 civilians were assassinated by insurgents, a 105 percent increase on the previous year, with huge spikes in the key Taliban strongholds of Helmand and Kandahar in southern Afghanistan.
UNAMA and AIHRC called for all parties involved in fighting the war to take greater care to protect civilians in 2011, a year which politicians, officials and military figures have predicted to bring more bloodshed amid the transition process.