UN says deaths attributed to the US-led coalition and Afghan security forces dropped by more than a quarter as number killed by insurgents rose 28% to more than 2,000.
Islamic insurgents responsible for 75% of civilian deaths in Afghanistan
KABUL // Insurgents killed more Afghan civilians last year than ever before and their roadside bombs, suicide attacks and assassinations were responsible for the overwhelming majority of conflict-related deaths in 2010, the United Nations said yesterday.
At the same time, deaths attributed to the US-led coalition and Afghan security forces dropped sharply by more than a quarter despite a surge in troop numbers and a stepped-up military campaign against the Taliban and insurgent groups, the UN added.
The increase in deaths reflects an escalation in battles between international forces and insurgents as the US-led coalition tries to beat the Taliban out of traditional strongholds and establish government control over parts of Afghanistan that were lost in the fallow years when the focus was on the Iraq war. The fighting is expected to increase in coming months as Nato tries to hold on to its gains and force the Taliban to join peace talks.
"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 assistant secretary general for human rights.
The annual report of the UN's Assistance Mission in Afghanistan registered 2,777 conflict-related civilian deaths in 2010, a 15 per cent increase from 2009. It said that of those deaths, insurgents were responsible for 2,080 - a 28 per cent increase from the previous year and 75 per cent of the overall number. A total of 4,343 people were wounded, it said.
The mission said deaths attributed to the US-led coalition dropped by 26 per cent to 440 people in 2010. Of those deaths, air strikes were responsible for 171, a sharp 52 per cent reduction from 2009 despite a significant increase in the use of air power by Nato. The mission could not attribute nine per cent of the total deaths.
Staffan De Mistura, the mission's director, said: "This is the time of a military surge and we are witnessing it. We all know that there is no military solution to this conflict and we also know that this is the year that there should be a political surge. But now we are asking formally, strongly and firmly on behalf of the Afghan people that 2011 should also be a surge for the protection of civilians by all sides."
Military officials foresee an escalation in fighting starting at the end of this month, as insurgents come back from a winter break to try and gain back territory lost late last year when the United States brought 30,000 more troops into Afghanistan.
That surge brought the number of coalition forces to about 130,000, the highest number since the invasion of Afghanistan a month after the September 11, 2001 attacks.
Nato hopes the increased pressure will bring the Taliban to the negotiating table, although the group says it will refuse to start talking until all foreign troops leave the country. Nato expects to hand over control for security of the country to the Afghan government by the end of 2014.
The coalition has also paid a price. Nato announced yesterday that a roadside bomb killed one of its service members in southern Afghanistan, bring the total this month to five and to 72 so far this year. Last year a record 701 international troops were killed, of which 492 were Americans.
Mr De Mistura said: "The figures indicate that international forces have made an effort to reduce civilian casualties. However let's not forget that the whole purpose of the international engagement in Afghanistan is the protection of civilians. That is why we understand that while we are sending a strong message to the Taliban and anti-government forces we are also requesting and reminding international forces of one thing, that one civilian victim is one too many."