Saturday, August 1, 2009

GENEVA | The United Nations said Friday the number of civilians killed in conflict in Afghanistan has jumped 24 percent so far this year, with bombings by insurgents and air strikes by international forces the biggest single killers.

The U.S. military announced the deaths of two more troops in southern Afghanistan. The deaths brought to 42 the number of Americans killed in Afghanistan in July - the bloodiest month for U.S. and international forces during the eight-year Afghan war.

In a grim assessment of the first half of 2009, the U.N. assistance mission in Afghanistan said the Taliban and other anti-government militants have become more deadly by shifting from ambush attacks to suicide bombings, use of roadside explosives and targeted assassinations.

It warned that more civilians would likely be killed as insurgents try to battle a troop increase by the administration of President Obama, and seek to destabilize the country before presidential and provincial council elections on Aug. 20. The summer is also typically the worst season for fighting in Afghanistan.

Insurgent attacks are “frequently undertaken regardless of the impact on civilians in terms of deaths and injuries, or destruction of civilian infrastructure,” the 21-page report said, ascribing 595 civilian deaths to the Taliban and other “anti-government elements” over the first six months.

Many of those died in suicide attacks or roadside bombs near “civilian traffic, residential compounds and marketplaces.”

The United States and Western powers have become more deadly, too, partly because insurgent groups are taking cover in residential areas or luring U.S.-led forces into unintentionally killing civilians, the U.N. said.

The Taliban and others are “basing themselves in civilian areas so as to deliberately blur the distinction between combatants and civilians, and as part of what appears to be an active policy aimed at drawing a military response to areas where there is a high likelihood that civilians will be killed or injured.”

The report said international forces have given high priority to minimizing civilian casualties, but along with Afghan forces have killed 310 civilians. Of those, 200 were killed in 40 air strikes. The total death toll - including those deaths that couldn’t be attributed to either side - of 1,013 civilians is 24 percent higher than in the same period in 2008, and 48 percent higher than in 2007.

The U.N. tally is higher than an Associated Press count of civilian deaths based on reports from Afghan and international officials showing that 453 civilians have been killed in insurgent attacks this year, and 199 civilians died from attacks by Afghan or international forces. An Afghan human rights group said an additional 69 civilians died during a U.S. attack in Farah province in May, but the U.S. disputes those deaths.

The U.N. said the report was compiled by its Afghan mission’s human rights unit, and drew on independent monitoring and investigation of incidents where civilians were killed in conflict zones. It is the third year the U.N. has conducted such analysis in Afghanistan.

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