Rise in Afghan civilian deaths; 1,013 killed in 2009: UN


Geneva : Afghan civilian deaths in the first six months of 2009 rose 24 percent, compared to the same period last year, the UN reported Friday, blaming air strikes and guerrilla warfare for many of the casualties.

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“As the conflict intensifies and spreads, it is taking an increasingly heavy toll on civilians,” the UN said in a twice-annual review, noting that each year more unarmed people were being killed.

Armed opposition groups were responsible for 59 percent of the 1,013 civilian deaths, UN Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) data showed. Afghan security units and the international military forces were to blame for 30.5 percent. Some cases were unclear.

UNAMA said this was a rise in the percentage of deaths for which the militants were accountable.

A shift in tactics was also detected, as the insurgency switched from frontal or ambush attacks on international forces, to guerrilla type activities. These include so-called “asymmetric attacks” such as suicide, car and road-side bombs, which are the main cause of civilian deaths in the conflict.

The militants were also “basing themselves in civilian areas so as to deliberately blur the distinction between combatants and civilians”, the report said.

This was likely an “active policy” to draw “a military response to areas where there is a high likelihood that civilians will be killed or injured”.

In 40 monitored air-strikes carried out by the multinational forces, some 200 civilians lost their lives, making it their most lethal method of combat employed.

Night-time raids and other search and seizure operations by official Afghan and international forces included reports of “excessive use of force” which allegedly resulted in civilian deaths.

While the international military forces have given a “high priority” to minimising the war’s impact on civilians, the UN said it was still concerned about the “the level of transparency” and the willingness to share information with the mission.

The UN mission has published an analysis of civilian deaths in Afghanistan since 2007.