News / Asia

UN: Civilian Death Toll in Afghanistan Last Year Highest Since 2001

Ayaz Gul

A U.N. report says the number of civilians killed in Afghanistan last year was higher than in any year since the U.S.-led coalition dislodged the Taliban in 2001 for harboring the al-Qaida terror network. The report says more than 2,400 civilians fell victim to the war-related incidents in 2009.

Chief human-rights officer at the United Nations mission in Kabul, Norah Niland, released the annual findings to reporters in Kabul.

She says non-combatant casualties went up 14 percent in 2009, describing it as the most deadly year for Afghan civilians since the conflict began.

While blaming Taliban insurgents for causing two-thirds of the civilian deaths, the U.N. officer says foreign and local forces were still responsible for a quarter of the non-combatant deaths during in anti-insurgency operations.

"What the overall figure shows is that now the proportion of deaths attributed to the armed opposition has gone up to 67 percent.  What we found also from our research in 2009 is that the biggest killer is the combination of IED (Improvised Explosive Device) and suicide attacks. So this is an occasion to appeal to all of the conflicting parties to take measures to reduce harm to civilians," said Niland.

The United Nations report acknowledges that non-combatant casualties in the anti-insurgency actions by international forces dropped by 30 percent in the previous year.  Observers say the reduction of civilian deaths in anti-insurgency operations in Afghanistan will be good news for the U.S military. 

When he took over in the middle of the of last year as the commander of the NATO and American forces in the country, U.S General Stanley McChrystal promised his strategy will be to protect more Afghan civilians than killing more insurgents.

The year 2009 saw the highest number of deaths among international forces, particularly for the United States and Britain.  Both the countries lost more than twice as many soldiers as in any previous year. 

The United States and NATO forces are in the process of deploying a further 37,000 troops in Afghanistan to try defeat the Taliban insurgency and stabilize the country.  There are fears the troop surge will lead to more casualties in Afghanistan.

But speaking in neighboring Pakistan, U.S special envoy for the two countries, Richard Holbrooke, reiterated that the Washington is also intensifying political and economic efforts.

"When military troops move into an area controlled by the Taliban and they clear the Taliban of the area, it is important to restore the services to the people, education, health, justice, roads, schools and administration.  And international civilian advisors, including many Americans, have been assigned this job.  So there has been a tripling of American civilians in Afghanistan in the last year," said Holbrooke.

A few days ago the non-governmental organization, the Pakistan Institute for Peace Studies, reported more than 3,000 civilian deaths during 2009 in Pakistan.  The country's security forces are battling local Taliban militants,  fugitive Afghans and al-Qaida extremists to help U.S led coalition secure tribal areas lining Pakistan's border with Afghanistan.  Militants have retaliated with suicide and other terrorist attacks across Pakistan. 


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