Skip to main content

UN: Civilian deaths fall in Afghanistan; first drop in 6 years

By Ed Payne, CNN
updated 7:32 PM EST, Tue February 19, 2013
Afghan Commandos are pictured at the National Military Academy in Kabul on Saturday.
Afghan Commandos are pictured at the National Military Academy in Kabul on Saturday.
  • New: Casualties are up among women and girls, report says
  • 81% of civilian casualties were attributed to anti-government forces
  • U.S. and most NATO nations plan to pull their troops out by end of 2014
  • "The human cost of the conflict remains unacceptable," a U.N. official says

(CNN) -- Civilian deaths in Afghanistan dropped 12% in 2012 -- the first time that figure has fallen in six years, a U.N. report said Tuesday.

The report by the U.N. Assistance Mission to Afghanistan (UNAMA) credits the decline to:

-- fewer suicide bombings

-- a decline in aerial attacks

-- less ground fighting between pro-government and militant forces

-- care taken by those pro-government forces to minimize harm to civilians.

Afghanistan's future: 5 burning questions

Obama: Troops will be home by end of '14
Afghanistan's war history

Deaths down, injuries up slightly

"The decrease in civilian casualties UNAMA documented in 2012 is very much welcome," said Jan Kubis, a U.N. special representative for Afghanistan. "Yet, the human cost of the conflict remains unacceptable."

Kubis blames the use of roadside bombs by militants as" the single biggest killer of civilians."

The report noted a marginal increase in civilian injuries compared to 2011.

The report comes as the United States and most NATO nations plan to pull their troops out of Afghanistan by the end of 2014.

Civilians in the cross hairs

Despite the overall decrease in casualties -- deaths plus injuries -- militants increasingly targeted civilians throughout the country and carried out attacks without regard for human life, the report said.

In total, 81% of all civilian casualties in 2012 were attributed to anti-government elements.

The report had harsh words in particular for the Taliban, blaming the group for attacking civilians indiscriminately, even after promising not to target them.

"I welcome strong statements by the Taliban leadership urging its fighters to protect civilians but without enforcing these directives on the ground all that remains are only words," said Kubis who called on, "all Taliban fighters to protect civilians ... and stop using suicide bombers."

Not all casualty groups down

The news was not encouraging for women and girls, who saw their casualty numbers increase last year, according to the report.

"The number of Afghan women and girls killed and injured in the conflict increased by 20% in 2012," said Georgette Gagnon, director of human rights for UNAMA. "It is the tragic reality that most Afghan women and girls were killed or injured while engaging in their everyday activities."

They are often the victims of roadside bombs, tripped by pressure plates embedded in the dirt, the report said.

While the latest numbers show the first improvement in recent memory, at more than 7,500 casualties, they're still far from what the UNAMA would like to see.

"Conflict-related violence continued to seriously threaten the lives and well-being of thousands of Afghan children, women and men," Gagnon said. "This situation demands even greater commitment and redoubled efforts to protect Afghan civilians in 2013 and beyond."

Part of complete coverage on
updated 1:32 PM EDT, Sat June 14, 2014
Afghans have finished casting their ballots to pick a president in a runoff election between former Cabinet ministers.
updated 8:51 AM EDT, Mon June 9, 2014
Singer and ex-judge on The Voice of Afghanistan advocates women's rights -- despite death threats for not wearing a headscarf.
updated 5:31 PM EDT, Wed June 11, 2014
The improvement in the quality of life for Afghan women is unmistakable, say a bipartisan coalition of women in Congress.
updated 6:33 AM EDT, Thu May 29, 2014
President Barack Obama outlined a foreign policy vision of "might doing right."
updated 1:58 AM EDT, Wed April 9, 2014
She was to be married off to pay for her father's debt -- here's her story.
updated 3:23 PM EDT, Mon April 7, 2014
One music producer hopes to get out Afghanistan's youth vote with a song competition. CNN's Sherisse Pham reports.
updated 8:11 AM EDT, Mon April 7, 2014
Despite threats from the Taliban, Afghans turned out in large numbers to cast their vote for a new president and future.
updated 1:27 AM EDT, Wed April 9, 2014
It was not too long ago -- in 2001, prior to the U.S. invasion -- that Afghanistan's women were all but entirely marginalized.
updated 8:23 PM EDT, Sun April 6, 2014
As Afghan voters prepare to go to the polls in a hugely important election, CNN looks at the main presidential candidates.
updated 8:37 AM EDT, Wed April 2, 2014
Despite the looming Taliban presence, Afghanistan could see its first democratic transfer of power, Peter Bergen writes.
updated 2:03 AM EDT, Fri April 4, 2014
As the U.S. prepares to withdraw troops, an Afghan Army commander says America's support remains critical.
updated 5:24 AM EDT, Fri May 24, 2013
With U.S. Special Forces in Afghanistan, CNN's Anna Coren reports on a Taliban firefight lasting more than 90 minutes.
updated 10:54 AM EDT, Mon April 1, 2013
Mallika Kapur has the story of a young Afghan graffiti artist who, despite Taliban threats, pushes for free expression.
updated 7:35 AM EST, Mon February 11, 2013
Author William Dalrymple's new book "Return of a King" looks at the history of foreign-led wars in Afghanistan.'s 'Home and Away' initiative honors the lives of U.S. and coalition troops who have died in Iraq and Afghanistan.