KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — The number of Afghan civilians killed and wounded in the last half of 2012 rose sharply compared with the similar period in 2011 as insurgents took advantage of warmer weather to carry out more attacks, the United Nations said Tuesday.
Overall, the annual toll of civilian deaths in 2012 declined compared with the previous year. But conflict-related violence struck more women and girls last year, with 301 killed and 563 wounded — a 20 percent increase from 2011.
The midyear reversal suggests that the country is likely to face continued violence as the Taliban and other militants fight for control following the impending withdrawal of U.S. and allied combat forces.
The findings come as the war in Afghanistan is reaching a turning point, with international troops increasingly taking the back seat in operations as government forces take the lead.
The U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) said civilian casualties rose 13 percent to 4,431 in the second half of the year, including more from roadside bombs placed in public areas, compared with the similar period in 2011.
That included 1,599 people killed and 2,832 wounded from July 1 to Dec. 31, a jump from 1,556 and 2,832, respectively, in the similar period the previous year.
It cited a growing number in civilian casualties from roadside bombs even as fewer bystanders were hurt in ground engagements in the troubled south and east of the country.
Overall, it documented 2,754 civilians killed in 2012, a 12 percent decrease from 3,131 in the similar period a year earlier. It was the first time in six years that the civilian death toll dropped.
But the population faced a sharp increase in assassinations and other insurgent attacks targeting government supporters.
Most of the victims were killed by Taliban militants and other armed groups, while the number of civilian casualties at the hands of U.S. and allied forces dropped by nearly 50 percent, according to an annual report by UNAMA that tracks statistics in the 11-year-old war.
The number of people killed and wounded by roadside bombs placed in public locations as well as by intensified conflict in some parts of the country also increased by 17 percent, the report said.
“The situation for civilians is still very difficult in many communities and many thousands of Afghans are still affected by the armed conflict, so we are again calling on all concerned to redouble their efforts, increase their efforts to protect civilians,” said Georgette Gagnon, the head of human rights for UNAMA.
The UNAMA report attributed the overall drop in civilian casualties for the year to a decline in suicide attacks, reduced numbers of airstrikes as well as “an unseasonably harsh winter which impeded insurgent movements and effects of earlier military operations against anti-government elements.”
But it expressed concern about the spike in targeted killings and human rights abuses by armed groups, a worrisome trend as the Afghan government works to assert control beyond its seat in Kabul.
The Taliban and other insurgents were responsible for 81 percent of the civilian casualties last year, the U.N. said. The report said so-called anti-government elements killed 2,179 civilians and wounded 3,952, a 9 percent increase in casualties from 2011.