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July 11, 2010

Afghan Group: 1,100 Civilians Killed in 1st Half of 2010

An Afghan human-rights group says in a new report that nearly 1,100 civilians were killed in Afghanistan in the first half of this year, an increase from the same period in 2009.  

Afghanistan Rights Monitor reports about six Afghan civilians were killed and eight others wounded each day in conflict-related incidents in the first half of this year.

The group's mid-year report says insurgents are responsible for more than 60 percent of the recorded civilian deaths.  The weapons of choice are Improvised Explosive Devices, which killed more civilians than any other war activity, followed by suicide attacks.

Officials with the international forces say from June 1 to July 10, insurgents killed 464 civilians, while NATO troops killed 42.   According to the Afghanistan Rights Monitor report, NATO troops killed more than 200 civilians in the past six months.

Ajmal Samadi is the director of Afghanistan Rights Monitor.  Speaking to VOA from Kabul, he praised the former top military commander in Afghanistan, U.S. General Stanley McChrystal, for creating restrictions on the use of NATO air strikes.

Samadi says these restrictions helped to reduce considerably the number of civilians killed by NATO forces.  But he says he is worried McChyrstal's recent replacement, U.S. General David Petraeus, might give in to reported troop complaints the rules of engagement are too restricting.

"We fear that if he does not show strong commitment to the protection of civilians, like General McChrystal did, then the situation could relapse to 2008 [and] 2007 when hundreds of people were killed by U.S. and NATO forces," he said.

Samadi also says his group fears some regional powers may interpret General Petraeus' appointment to Afghanistan and the arrival of thousands of additional U.S. and NATO troops as "a last push before exit," signifying that Afghanistan is up for grabs as NATO countries work to withdraw.

"As the United States talks about 'gradual withdrawal,' Iran and Pakistan are thinking of [a] gradual increase of their influence in Afghanistan.  So as long as you see the United States stepping back, Iran and Pakistan will be stepping forward," said Samadi.

Sunday in Kabul, the U.S. Senate's Armed Services Committee chairman, Carl Levin, praised Pakistan for tackling its domestic Taliban threat in the face of significant military casualties.  But he urged the country to do more to fight Afghan Taliban groups that launch attacks on NATO and Afghan forces from safe havens in Pakistan.

"They have not been consistent in my judgment in terms of who they have not gone after yet.  They have not gone after [the] Haqqani [network] in North Waziristan, and they have not really gone after the Taliban down in Quetta," said Levin.

Analysts say these groups are leading a strengthening insurgency in Afghanistan that killed more than 100 international troops last month.  

This was the highest number of NATO deaths since the start of the war nearly nine years ago.

Alongside these military losses, Afghanistan Rights Monitor's Ajmal Samadi says his group found the worsening security situation continues to disrupt essential services, such as health and education, for Afghan civilians.