UN: Afghan Civilian Deaths Rise Sharply

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by
Associated Press

UN: Afghan Civilian Deaths Rise Sharply

by
Rahim Faiez

Soldiers with the NATO- led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) arrive at the scene of a militant attack in Kabul, Afghanistan on Tuesday, Aug. 10, 2010. Two suicide attackers struck a building rented by a private security company in Afghanistan's capital Tuesday, detonating their explosive vests to kill two company drivers, police said. (AP Photo/Musadeq Sadeq)

KABUL,
Afghanistan (AP) -- The number of civilians killed in the Afghan war
jumped 25 percent in the first half of 2010 compared with the same
period last year, with insurgents responsible for the spike, the United
Nations said in a report Tuesday.

Shortly
after the U.N. released its report in Kabul, two gunmen with explosives
strapped to them tried to storm the office of an international security
company in the capital. When guards fought back, the men detonated their
explosives, killing two Afghan drivers.

The
U.N. report showed a reduction in civilian casualties from NATO action,
but the overall rise in deaths indicated that the war is getting
ever-more violent - undermining the coalition's aim of improving
security in the face of a virulent Taliban insurgency.

"The human cost of this conflict is unfortunately
rising," said Staffan De Mistura, the top U.N. envoy in Afghanistan. "We
are very concerned about the future because the human cost is being
paid too heavily by civilians. This report is a wake-up call."

According to the U.N. report, 1,271 Afghans died and
1,997 were injured - mostly from bombings - in the first six months of
the year. There were 1,013 civilian deaths in the first six months of
2009.

The U.N. said insurgents were
responsible for 72 percent of the deaths - up from 58 percent last year.

In much of the south, people say they are too
scared to work with NATO forces or the Afghan government because they
will then be targeted by insurgents. And the risk of attack makes
travel, running a business or any sort of community organizing or
political campaigning dangerous.

The attack on
Hart Security in Kabul started with a gunbattle as the assailants tried
to shoot their way in to the compound in the largely residential
Taimani neighborhood about 3:30 p.m. (1100 GMT, 7 a.m. EDT), said Abdul
Ghafar Sayedzada, chief of criminal investigations for the Kabul police.

After the assault, a group of men could be seen
carrying a body out of the building toward a waiting police truck. One
of the men carrying the body was weeping, according to an Associated
Press reporter at the scene.

The attack
appeared timed to coincide with the end of the company's workday,
Sayedzada said.

Area residents said they heard
shooting about the same time as the blast.

"I
was about to park my car when I heard gunfire. I turned and saw
shooting between the security guards and two other people. They were
trying to get in the building," said Mohammad Sharif, who lives nearby.
"In the middle of that fighting suddenly there was a big explosion."

One of the security guards was also wounded,
Sayedzada said.

The Kabul deaths were not the
day's only civilian casualties. Three civilians were killed when their
car struck a roadside bomb just outside the eastern city of Ghazni,
according to deputy provincial governor Kazim Allayar. And an
insurgent-planted bomb killed an Afghan civilian near southern Kandahar
city on Monday, according to NATO forces.

De
Mistura said militants were using larger and more sophisticated
explosive devices throughout the nation.

"If
they want to be part of a future Afghanistan, they cannot do so over the
bodies of so many civilians," de Mistura said.

De Mistura said that does not dissuade the U.N. from
seeking a negotiated peace between the government and the Taliban, but
he called on insurgent groups to consider whether they are not hurting
their own long-term goals.

"One day, when
unavoidably there will be a discussion about the future of the country,
will you want to come to that table with thousands of Afghans,
civilians, killed along the road?"

Deaths from
U.S., NATO and other pro-government forces dropped in the first six
months of 2010. The report said that 223, or 18 percent, of the Afghan
deaths were due to U.S., NATO and other pro-government forces. That was
down from 310 deaths, or 31 percent, during the first six months of last
year, primarily because of a decrease in airstrikes, the report said.

Even so, air attacks were the largest single
cause of civilian deaths caused by pro-government forces - accounting
for 31 percent.

Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the
former NATO commander, introduced strict rules on air strikes and called
on soldiers to assess the likelihood of civilian casualties before
taking any action. His successor, Gen. David Petraeus, has continued the
policy.

"Every Afghan death diminishes our
cause," Petraeus said in a statement. He also noted that even the
increase in insurgent-caused deaths can hurt NATO's effort.

"We know the measure by which our mission will be
judged is protecting the population from harm by either side. We will
redouble our efforts to prevent insurgents from harming their
neighbors," Petraeus said.

Though bombs
continued to be the largest killer, there was a large jump in deaths
from assassinations, particularly in the last few months.

There were about four assassinations or executions of
civilians a week in the first six months of 2009. That jumped to about
seven per week in the first six months of this year, spiking in May and
June to 18 per week.

"These figures show that
the Taliban are resorting to desperate measures, increasingly executing
and assassinating civilians, including teachers, doctors, civil servants
and tribal elders," said Rachel Reid, Afghanistan researcher for Human
Rights Watch. "Targeting civilians violates the laws of war."

The Taliban has called on its fighters to avoid
civilian casualties, but the group pointedly excludes anyone allied with
the government from this protection. So mayors, community elders taking
foreign money for development projects and mullahs seen as supporting
the government have all become targets.

Children
have also increasingly become casualties of the war. The report says
176 children were killed and 389 others were wounded - up 55 percent
over the same six-month period last year.

Elsewhere
in Afghanistan, seven Afghan policemen were killed Monday in attacks in
southern Helmand province, police officials said.

In Laghman province in the east, seven Afghan
soldiers have died and 14 have been wounded in ongoing fighting with
insurgents on the outskirts of the provincial capital of Mehtar, said
Gen. Mohammad Zahir Azimi, a spokesman for the Defense Ministry. He
confirmed reports that up to 20 Afghan soldiers have gone missing in the
province and are in the hands of the Taliban.

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