KABUL - The number of Afghan police killed during 2010 fell about seven percent to 1,292, the government said on Monday, despite violence spreading across the country as the war entered its tenth year.
Foreign military and civilian casualties are at record levels despite the presence of about 150,000 NATO-led troops, with 2010 the bloodiest year on record since the Taliban were ousted by U.S.-backed Afghan forces in late 2001.
Ministry of the Interior spokesman Zemari Bashary said 2,447 Afghan police were wounded, while 5,225 insurgents were killed and 949 wounded. He said the government did not have a toll of insurgent casualties for 2009.
There was a total of 6,716 security incidents in 2010, such as ambushes, roadside bombings, suicide bombings and rocket attacks, Bashary said.
The Taliban are at their strongest since they were ousted after they refused to hand over al Qaeda militants, including Osama bin Laden, after the September 11, 2001, al Qaeda attacks on the United States.
The insurgency has spread out of its traditional strongholds in the south and east over the past two years into once peaceful areas of the north and west. The north in particular has become a deadly new front in the war.
The Interior Ministry said 2,043 civilians were killed and 3,570 wounded but it again did not have a toll for 2009. The United Nations has said 2,412 civilians were killed and 3,803 wounded between January and October last year -- up 20 percent from 2009.
The Defense Ministry said 821 Afghan soldiers were killed last year. It also did not have a toll available for 2009.
Brigadier General Josef Blotz, a spokesman for the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), said the high number of casualties among Afghan security forces "is a testament to their sacrifice, to their efforts, to their commitment, they're fighting for their country."
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He also noted the high number of civilian casualties.
Blotz said a surge in the number of foreign troops fighting in Afghanistan last year had led to an expected upturn in violence "but obviously this is a necessary step, a necessary phase in the overall strategy."
"Before it gets better, unfortunately is has to get worse and this is what we saw toward the end of 2010," he said.
Foreign forces suffered record deaths in 2010, with 711 troops killed, roughly two thirds of them American, according to monitoring website www.iCasualties.org. It was by far the deadliest year of the conflict for foreign troops, up from 521 deaths in 2009, previously the worst year of the war.
A war strategy review released by U.S. President Barack Obama last month found U.S. and NATO forces were making headway against the Taliban and al Qaeda but serious challenges remain. It said the Taliban's momentum had been arrested in much of Afghanistan and reversed in some areas.
NATO leaders agreed at a summit in Lisbon in November to end combat operations and hand security responsibility to Afghan forces by the end of 2014. Obama has promised to begin withdrawing U.S. troops from July 2011.
But critics say the 2014 target set by President Hamid Karzai is too ambitious and that there are shortcomings in Afghanistan's security forces, and that setting a target to begin withdrawing troops only emboldens the insurgents.
(Reporting by Michelle Nichols and Hamid Shalizi; Editing by Paul Tait)