- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 14, 2010

KABUL, Afghanistan | Taliban suicide bombings and other attacks caused Afghan civilian deaths to soar last year to the highest annual level in the war, the United Nations said Wednesday, while deaths attributed to allied forces dropped nearly 30 percent — a key U.S. goal for winning over the Afghan people.

Insurgent attacks were mainly aimed at government or international military forces but often were carried out in crowded areas, the U.N. said in a report.

Afghans seen as supporting the government or the international community also were targeted, including community elders, former military personnel, doctors, teachers and construction workers as well as employees of the U.N. and nongovernmental organizations.

“Through these actions, the armed opposition has demonstrated a significant disregard for the suffering inflicted on civilians,” the report said.

The U.N. mission, which is in Afghanistan to support and bolster the Afghan government, said 2,412 civilians were killed in 2009 — a 14 percent increase over the 2,118 who died in 2008. Another 3,566 civilians were wounded.

Nearly 70 percent of the killings, or 1,630, were blamed on suicide attacks and other insurgent bombings as well as assassinations and executions. Some 25 percent, or 596, were attributed to pro-government forces, the report said. The remaining 135 deaths could not be attributed to either side but were civilians caught in the crossfire or killed by unexploded ordnance.

Nearly half of the Afghan civilian casualties occurred in southern Afghanistan, which has seen intense fighting as U.S. and allied troops seek to oust the Taliban and other insurgents, the U.N. said. It said previously stable areas, such as Kunduz province and elsewhere in the northeast, also have witnessed increasing insecurity.

The number of civilians killed by pro-government forces, including U.S. air strikes, decreased by 28 percent over the previous year, the report found. Air strikes still killed 359 civilians, or 60 percent of the deaths attributed to pro-government forces and 15 percent of civilian deaths overall.

“This decrease reflects measures taken by international military forces to conduct operations in a manner that reduces the risk posed to civilians,” it said.

The top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, has ordered troops to use air strikes judiciously and take other measures to reduce civilian casualties following widespread public outrage over civilian deaths.

Meanwhile, the visiting chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee said Afghanistan is facing a major shortage of instructors needed to train Afghan forces, and called the deficit “unacceptable.”

Sen. Carl Levin, Michigan Democrat, said he would press nations in the international coalition to honor their pledges to train the Afghan security force, so foreign troops can eventually go home.

Mr. Levin said the NATO coalition had only 37 percent of the trainers it needed to teach initial eight-week courses for Afghan recruits.

Mr. Levin said 4,235 trainers were needed to meet a target goal to train 134,000 soldiers and 96,800 policemen by October. Currently, there are only 1,574 trainers, he said.

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