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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

“2010 was deadliest year of war for Afghan civilians, U.N. says”

KABUL, Afghanistan — Last year was the deadliest yet for Afghan civilians in nearly a decade of warfare, the United Nations said Wednesday, in a report that painted a picture of growing insecurity in cities and towns across the country.

The U.N. mission in Afghanistan put the number of civilians killed last year at 2,777, a 15 percent increase over the previous year. About three-quarters of those deaths were caused by insurgents, the report said.

Most of the civilian casualties were capriciously random in nature, with hundreds of people dying in suicide attacks or roadside bombings. But the report also noted an ominous trend: a doubling of assassinations of government officials, tribal elders and other prominent figures. These targeted killings are viewed as an unambiguous warning by insurgents against cooperating with the administration of President Hamid Karzai or with the Western military force.

Civilian deaths and injuries were concentrated in Afghanistan’s principal conflict zones — the south and east — but touched all areas of the country. And they spiked in some areas that were previously considered relatively peaceful, such as the north.

The report, issued jointly with the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, coincides with a series of upbeat public assessments by senior American and other Western officials, including Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, who have highlighted military gains in recent months against the Taliban and other militant groups.

But fighting between the Taliban and the NATO force is likely to intensify in coming weeks as the weather improves, and the U.N. voiced fears that civilians would find themselves caught in the crossfire.

As it did in the previous year, the report charted a drop in the proportion of deaths caused by the Western military, this time of 26 percent. But the current year already has seen several high-profile instances of casualties at the hands of the NATO force, including nine young boys killed this month as they gathered firewood on a mountainside. Gates apologized to Karzai during a visit this week for the deaths of the boys, who were hunted down by helicopter gunships after being mistaken for insurgents who had attacked a U.S. base.

Western military officials often express frustration over the degree of anger directed at the foreign forces over civilian casualties when it is insurgents who cause by far the greatest number of deaths and injuries.

“”Of course, there is a great difference between deliberately targeting civilians and civilians as collateral victims,”” said Ivan Simonovic, the U.N. assistant secretary-general for human rights, who came to Kabul to present the findings. “”But every loss of civilian life calls for transparent and thorough investigation.””

Simonovic, speaking to journalists in Kabul, noted that Afghan life expectancy is only 45 years, a statistic driven in part by war-related violence. Civilian deaths and injuries have climbed steadily over the last four years as the Taliban movement has regrouped and the NATO force has grown in size and strength, now totaling 150,000.

“”The increase in the number of civilians killed year after year is deeply disturbing,”” Simonovic said. The report calls on all parties to take steps to reduce the likelihood of noncombatants being killed and maimed.

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(c) 2011, Los Angeles Times.

Visit the Los Angeles Times on the Internet at http://www.latimes.com/.

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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