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UN: As US draws down, Afghan casualty toll is up

Thursday - 8/1/2013, 3:50am  ET

A displaced Afghan man rests near his temporary home on the outskirts of Kabul, Afghanistan, Tuesday, July, 30, 2013. (AP Photo/Ahmad Jamshid)

PATRICK QUINN
Associated Press

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) -- Afghanistan's civilian casualty toll has jumped this year as insurgents fight to recapture territory from the departing American-led coalition, a U.N. report showed on Wednesday.

The number of dead rose 14 percent, and wounded 28 percent, compared with January-June last year, UNAMA, the United Nations Assistance Mission for Afghanistan, said in its mid-year report.

It blamed the insurgency for 74 percent of the casualties, while the Taliban defended itself by claiming they were mostly legitimate targets because they were working for its enemy, the Western-backed government.

Civilian casualties had dropped following U.S. President Barack Obama's 30,000-troop surge. But UNAMA's latest report cited an intensifying Taliban campaign to recapture lost ground as the coalition, which is preparing to complete its withdrawal by the end of 2014, hands over security responsibilities to a rebuilt Afghan military and police force.

UNAMA said it counted 1,319 civilian deaths and 2,533 wounded from January to June, compared with 1,158 deaths and 1,976 wounded in the first six months of 2012..

It said most were caused by homemade bombs and mines on or near roads. Nine percent were attributed to the Afghan security forces and U.S.-led international military coalition, and 12 percent to ground engagements between pro-government forces and insurgents. The rest were either unattributed or caused by old explosive charges.

Many died in ground engagements in the east and south where the U.S. launched its 2009 surge to roll back the insurgents' significant gains.

The renewed fighting "presents an increasing risk to Afghan children, women and men," said Georgette Gagnon, head of human rights for UNAMA.

The report found that 207 civilians died and 764 were injured in clashes between Afghan forces and the Taliban, a 42 percent increase from the same period last year.

In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said that Afghan forces are taking more casualties because they are doing more of the fighting against the Taliban. She said it was "inevitable that the numbers will probably rise because they're taking on so much more capability. I think it's 80 percent of all security operations now."

Most foreign forces are to leave this year and there are already fewer than 100,000, 66,000 of them American. Plans to leave some troops are on hold pending signature of a delayed U.S.-Afghan security agreement.

Another cause cited by UNAMA for the intensified civilian bloodshed is a stepped-Taliban campaign against the Afghan Local Police, equipped and trained by the U.S. as a first line of defense in remote areas. These units live among the population, so civilians are more likely to be caught in the crossfire.

UNAMA also recorded 103 attacks on civilians working for the government, in which 114 died -- a 76 percent jump from the first half of last year.

Amirullah Aman, an Afghan political analyst and former army general, said the rise in civilian casualties was no surprise.

"The Taliban are using all their options, suicide attacks, organized attacks and roadside bomb attacks," he said. "Civilians are the victims in most of those attacks."

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid denounced the report as "baseless propaganda" driven by the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, and said the Taliban would keep targeting civilians it considers linked to the U.S.-led coalition or the administration of President Hamid Karzai.

"We never consider those people as civilians who are directly involved in our country's occupation and work with sensitive organs of the enemy," he said in an email.

In the last such attack, outside the Supreme Court building in Kabul on June 17, a suicide bomber killed 17 people, most of them office workers.

Abdul Jamil, a 55-year-old court janitor, was wounded. "I have lost my leg, I have lost my eye," he said. "How many other innocent people will face the same fate as me? Civilian casualties are increasing and no one pays any attention. It is just a like an animal being killed and no one cares."

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Associated Press writers Rahim Faiez in Kabul, Afghanistan, and Matthew Lee in Washington contributed to this report.

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Follow Patrick Quinn on Twitter at: http://www.twitter.com/PatrickAQuinn


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