The United Nations says the number of civilians being killed or wounded in Afghanistan has risen by around one-third in the first half of 2010, despite a drop in the number of casualties caused by U.S. and NATO forces.
The figures are contained in a report by the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA). It says 1,271 Afghan civilians died and nearly 2,000 were injured in the first six months of 2010 -- up 31 percent compared to the same period last year.
Presenting the report in Kabul today, the top UN envoy in Afghanistan, Staffan De Mistura, called it a "wake-up call." He said the UN is worried that the human cost of the conflict is "being paid too heavily by civilians."
"Thirty-one percent means what? In real terms, in human being terms, [it means] 3,268 civilians during the past six months," he said. "Afghan civilians have been casualties of this conflict."
Taliban and other insurgency forces were responsible for around three-quarters of the total number of deaths.
The report notes that this is up from last year, when they accounted for just over half of all casualties.
Most injuries and deaths, the report said, are due to roadside bombings.
It said U.S. and NATO and other pro-government forces were responsible for 368 casualties – or about 12 percent of the total, down from 30 percent in the same period last year.
Child casualties increased by more than half in comparison with last year.
According to the UN, the number of public executions and assassinations of civilians by antigovernment forces nearly doubled -- an increase Georgette Gagnon, the human rights director for UNAMA, called "dramatic."
"Most of these are in the south and southeast," she said. "These are assassinations of civilians, targeted assassinations of civilians from all walks of life."
An Appeal To The Insurgents
The rise in casualties is steeper than that reported by an Afghan rights commission two days ago. That report, by the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission, said around 1,325 civilians had died in the first seven months of 2010. It said that represented a roughly 6 percent rise on the same period last year.
At a press conference in Kabul on August 8, commission spokesman Nader Naderi addressed the insurgents directly.
“The commission appeals to the armed opposition to abide by their religious responsibilities and also their responsibility as an involved party in the conflict," he said. "In accordance with international laws and the Geneva Convention, which says that civilian casualities must be avoided as much as possible, their legal and true responsibility remains the protection of civilians in combat zones.”
Afghan President Hamid Karzai has warned Western troops that civilian deaths only empower the insurgency. NATO has imposed severe restrictions on the use of force in certain combat areas and especially in aerial strikes.
The report said there had been a 64-percent drop in civilian casualties from aerial attacks in the period monitored.
The Taliban has also responded to civilian deaths by issuing a "code of conduct’" to their fighters, telling them to avoid killing civilians and not to steal money or arms in attacks upon nonmilitary personnel.
While insurgent forces have recently become more active in the northern provinces, the majority of civilian deaths happened in the south, where the insurgency is traditionally strong.
written by Ashley Cleek, with contributions from Sharifa Jalalzai of RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan and agency reports