Afghan civilian deaths jump upwards

By Alex Stevenson

The number of civilians dying as a result of the struggle against the Taliban jumped upwards in the first half of 2010, United Nations figures show.

The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) blamed the Taliban for the 31% jump in civilian casualties on 2009 levels.

Civilian deaths caused by the Taliban and other anti-government elements totalled 1,271 in this period, while there were 1,997 casualties.

But international forces’ failure to tackle the rise in the usage of improvised explosive devices, which were attributed as the main cause of the increase in deaths, appears to have played a part.

“The devastating human impact of these events underscores that, nine years into the conflict, measures to protect Afghan civilians effectively and to minimize the impact of the conflict on basic human rights are more urgent than ever,” UNAMA’s director of human rights Georgette Gagnon said.

“All those concerned must do more to protect civilians and comply with their legal obligations not to attack civilians.”

A recent leaked set of tens of thousands of US military documents showing numerous previously unreported civilian deaths shone light on the damage done by civilian deaths.

But today’s figures showed the tactical directive introduced last year, changing the rules for when ground forces are allowed to call in airstrikes, has led to a reduction in civilian deaths attributed to pro-government forces.

UNAMA said aerial strikes killed 69 of the 223 civilian deaths by international forces in the first half of 2010 – a decrease of 64% from the same period in 2009.

Its main focus remains on the Taliban, however, with concern registered about the growing number of civilian assassinations – including teachers, nurses, doctors, tribal elders, community leaders and local officials.

“This intensified pattern of assassinations and executions reinforced the widespread perception of Afghan civilians that they are becoming more and more the primary target in this period of conflict,” Staffan de Mistura, the UN’s special representative of the secretary-general, said.

The number of children killed in the first six months of 2010 was up 55% on 2009 levels, according to UNAMA.