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UN: Targeted Killings Soar in Afghanistan

Afghan policemen stand guard at the site of an attack by insurgents against the Kabul traffic police headquarters in Kabul, Jan. 21, 2013.

Afghan policemen stand guard at the site of an attack by insurgents against the Kabul traffic police headquarters in Kabul, Jan. 21, 2013.

The United Nations says the overall number of civilian casualties in Afghanistan last year went down. The U.N. also reports, however, that the number of civilian casualties in the second half of 2012 rose 13 percent compared with the same period in 2011, while insurgent attacks targeting Afghan government employees last year increased 700 percent. The U.N. says the targeted killing of Afghan civilians is on the rise.

According to the U.N., the decrease in civilian casualties last year resulted from fewer Afghans being caught in crossfire between pro- and anti-government forces, fewer suicide bombings, fewer coalition airstrikes and measures taken to minimize harm to civilians.

Overall, the latest U.N. report looks positive, with a 12 percent drop in civilian casualties. A closer look at the numbers, though, shows the human cost of the conflict has been horrifically high, with nearly 15,000 Afghan civilians killed in the last six years.

Jan Kubis, head of the U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, said Tuesday in Kabul that the U.N. is willing to work with all parties, including the Taliban, to stop the unacceptable bloodshed.

"We cannot accept that civilians are being killed by improvised explosive devices. We cannot accept that increasingly suicide bombers, including brainwashed children, are used to kill civilians. This is not an Islamic way," said Kubis.

The vast majority of the civilians killed and injured in Afghanistan in 2012 were the victims of anti-government forces, according to the U.N.'s annual Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict report. Most of them were killed or maimed by homemade bombs planted in markets and on roads.

Women and children were especially hard-hit, said Georgette Gagnon, the U.N. human rights director in Afghanistan.

"We saw an increase of 20 percent of women and girls killed in the conflict, and the sad reality is that they were killed and injured while going about their daily work, their daily business," said Gagnon.

The report shows that targeted killings of government employees went up a staggering 700 percent. Killings of pro-government civilians, religious and tribal leaders, and those involved in peace and reconciliation efforts, went up more than 100 percent.

The U.N. report also warns that in certain provinces, armed groups and anti-government forces are stepping into a vacuum created by political instability and the departure of international troops. Many of these armed groups are not accountable to anyone.

All in all, 7,559 civilians were killed or injured in Afghanistan in 2012. And the pervasive violence continues to threaten, to disrupt and to damage the lives of Afghan civilians, who the U.N. says often have nowhere to turn.
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    Sharon Behn

    Sharon Behn is a foreign correspondent working out of Voice of America’s headquarters in Washington D.C  Her current beat focuses on political, security and humanitarian developments in Iraq, Syria and Turkey. Follow Sharon on Twitter and on Facebook.