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Afghan civilian deaths up 31%

Rising casualties among children were of particular concern, rising 55 per cent in the first six months of 2010, the United Nations reported.

Civilian casualties in Afghanistan rose by 31 per cent in the first six months of 2010, the United Nations reported today. Rising casualties among children were of particular concern, rising 55 per cent in the first half, said the UN special envoy in Afghanistan Staffan de Mistura. "We are worried about the future because the human cost of this war is too much," he said. "Afghan children and women are increasingly bearing the brunt of this conflict. They are being killed and injured in their homes and communities in greater numbers than ever before," Mr de Mistura said.

The number of deaths caused by insurgents had risen from half in the same period last year, now accounting for 76 per cent of the 1,271 deaths and 1,997 people wounded. "We are seeing 76 per cent of casualties are caused by anti-government forces. That makes us appeal to them - if they want to be part of future of Afghanistan they cannot do so." Afghanistan's increasingly bloody conflict has drawn in greater numbers of foreign soldiers over the past year, with nearly 150,000 US and Nato troops now battling an insurgency focused in the country's south.

Regional figures for civilian casualties reflect the worsening situation in the south, the UN report showed. Key to the counter-insurgency strategy has been an emphasis on protecting the Afghan population and reducing casualties caused by Nato's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). The US Gen David Petraeus, head of coalition forces in Afghanistan, reiterated the need to protect civilians in a new directive to troops released last week.

The UN report showed that ISAF air attacks remained their most harmful tactic, but that the number of civilian deaths from such incidents had decreased by 64 per cent. The statistics appeared to signal at least some success for the US-led counter-insurgency strategy to safeguard civilians in order to win support and turn the population against the Taliban. Mr de Mistura said the number of targeted assassinations by militants had nearly doubled from the first half of 2009, including the killing of three candidates in parliamentary elections scheduled to be held on September 18.

Cheaply made improvised bombs, the Taliban's weapon of choice, were becoming larger and more sophisticated, he said, and were responsible for 29 per cent of all civilian deaths in the first six months of the year. The United Nations called for the Taliban to withdraw "all orders and statements calling for the killing of civilians", stop roadside bomb and suicide attacks, and cease acts of intimidation and the use of civilians as human shields.

It called on ISAF to make investigations into civilian casualties more transparent and improve compensation to victims. "The devastating human impact of these events underscores that, nine years into the conflict, measures to protect Afghan civilians effectively and to minimise the impact of the conflict on basic human rights are more urgent than ever," said Georgette Gagnon, the UN Afghan mission's director of human rights.

"All those concerned must do more to protect civilians and comply with their legal obligations not to attack civilians," she added. * AFP

Published: August 10, 2010 04:00 AM

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