- Associated Press - Tuesday, August 10, 2010

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — The number of civilians killed in the Afghan war jumped 21 percent in the first half of 2010 compared with the similar period last year, with insurgents responsible for the spike, the United Nations said in a report Tuesday.

Shortly after the United Nations 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. Civilian deaths totaled 1,054 in the first six months of 2009.

The United Nations 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 into the compound in the largely residential Taimani neighborhood about 3:30 p.m. (7 a.m. EDT), said Abdul Ghafar Sayedzada, chief of criminal investigations for the Kabul police.

The Taliban told the Associated Press that they orchestrated the attack.

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 AP reporter at the scene.

The attack appeared timed to coincide with the end of the company’s workday, Mr. 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, Mr. 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 Kazim Allayar, the deputy provincial governor. And an insurgent-planted bomb killed an Afghan civilian near southern Kandahar city on Monday, according to NATO forces.

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