The number of civilian casualties in Afghanistan rose dramatically last year according to the latest annual survey by the United Nations. The report by the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) found that 2,412 civilians were killed last year—67% by the Taliban, 25% in operations by Afghan government and international forces, in particular air raids. For the remaining 8%, responsibility could not be determined.
These figures constitute the highest annual death toll for noncombatants since the US-led invasion eight years ago, an increase of 14% from the previous year. Analysts point to a change in strategy by the Taliban, who have increased their attacks in urban areas, and also spread the insurgency into the country’s north. Of the deaths attributed to Taliban insurgents, the UN found that 44% were caused by suicide attacks and roadside bombs. The Taliban issued a statement rejecting the findings, blaming instead foreign soldiers for most of the casualties.
Meanwhile, the proportion of civilian deaths attributed to international and Afghan government forces dropped sharply, with analysts pointing to new rules of engagement issued last summer by US Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the commander of Western forces in Afghanistan. The UNAMA report does criticize the US and NATO for locating military installations in civilian areas. And critics expressed concern that casualties will rise further once NATO and the US deploy 40,000 additional troops. (Spero News, LAT, Jan. 14)