In Afghanistan, Civilian Deaths Drop for First Time in 6 Years

4798Civilian deaths in the war in Afghanistan dropped in 2012 for the first time in six years, a sign of lessening hostilities, but insurgents dramatically expanded their campaign of assassinating government supporters, the United Nations said Tuesday.

Afghan villagers gather at a house destroyed in an apparent NATO raid in Logar province, south of Kabul, Afghanistan. Afghan officials and residents say a pre┬┐dawn NATO airstrike aimed at militants killed civilians celebrating a wedding. (Ihsanullah Majroh / Associated Press / June 6, 2012)
The annual U.N. report on civilian casualties in Afghanistan documented a 12% decline in civilian deaths, largely due to fewer ground operations, new limits on airstrikes by U.S.-led coalition forces and fewer suicide bombings by insurgents. Coalition operations resulted in 39% fewer civilian deaths, the report said.

A harsh winter that limited combat operations and insurgent movements also contributed to the drop in casualties as the 11-year conflict shifts to a new phase in which foreign forces step back and Afghan soldiers and police, who possess less deadly weapons, are almost entirely in the lead.

In all, 2,754 civilians died in the war last year, bringing the death toll to 14,728 since 2007, when the U.N. began tracking civilian casualties.

But the report said that targeted killings -- attacks against government employees, tribal and religious leaders and Afghans involved in peace efforts -- resulted in more than twice as many deaths and injuries in 2012, in part because Taliban-led insurgents increased their use of homemade bombs that spread damage over a wider area.

U.N. officials said they were particularly disturbed by a seven-fold increase in casualties among government workers, including the murders of the two top officials in the women's affairs department in Laghman province, east of Kabul.

"Steep increases in the deliberate targeting of civilians perceived to be supporting the government demonstrates another grave violation of international humanitarian law," Jan Kubis, the U.N. special envoy to Afghanistan, said in a statement. He said the Taliban leaders' promises to protect civilians so far amounted to "only words."

Insurgents were responsible for 81% of civilian casualties last year, compared to 72% in 2011, the report said, with improvised bombs being the single deadliest weapon.

Source: The LA Times | Shashank Bengali
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