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Report: Afghan civilian casualties rose 14% last year

By Tom Watkins, CNN
updated 11:05 AM EST, Sat February 8, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • An average of more than 8 civilians were killed each day last year
  • 2013 figures reverse the decline seen in 2012
  • A "new trend" -- civilians caught in fighting between pro- and anti-government forces
  • International forces urged to take steps to improve accountability for civilian deaths

(CNN) -- The impact of the war in Afghanistan increased last year for civilians, a U.N. report issued Saturday has concluded.

The casualty toll among civilians spiked 14% in 2013, with a tally of nearly 3,000 deaths -- more than eight per day -- and almost twice that number of wounded, a U.N. report issued Saturday said.

"Escalating deaths and injuries to civilians in 2013 reverses the decline recorded in 2012 and is consistent with record high numbers of civilian casualties documented in 2011," the annual report by the U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan said.

UNAMA said nearly three-quarters (74%) of the civilian casualties were caused by anti-government elements, 11% by pro-government forces and 10% resulted from fighting between anti- and pro-government forces. The remaining 5% were caused primarily by explosive remnants of war, it said.

In all, 2,959 civilian deaths and 5,656 casualties were recorded.

The report cited a "new trend" in the casualties -- civilians caught in fighting between pro- and anti-government elements made up more than a quarter (27%) of civilian casualties last year.

In addition to listing the facts and figures, the 93-page document included witness accounts, like this one about an attack against the Indian Consulate in Jalalabad city, Nangarhar province, on August 3:

"It was around 10:00 in the morning and I was at home," one witness says. "Suddenly there was gunfire, then a big explosion. Our entire house jerked and was covered in dust. The women and children were crying ... Soon after there was another explosion, a suicide attacker detonated his vest. Outside, my uncle and cousins were calling me for help but I couldn't reach them. Later I found the dead body of a child in my yard. When I walked upstairs I found children's body parts on my roof. Five children from our neighbor's house were killed."

In the attack, 10 civilians were killed and 23 wounded, most of them children returning from a madrassa in a mosque, it said.

Casualties among women and children were the highest since 2009, with 235 women killed and 511 wounded, up 36% over 2012. And 561 children were killed and 1,195 injured, up 34%.

Improvised explosive devices were the biggest killers of women and children; ground engagements were responsible for the most injuries.

"Increased indiscriminate and unlawful use of IEDs by anti-government elements killed and injured thousands of Afghan civilians as they went about their daily lives," it said. "Targeted killings of civilians by anti-government elements and increased ground engagements between insurgents and Afghan national security forces put more and more civilians at risk for death and injury in their homes and communities."

Though Taliban leaders have issued statements about protecting civilians, they "are not nearly enough to end the killing and injuring of innocent Afghan civilians," said Ján Kubiš, the U.N. Secretary-General's special representative for Afghanistan and head of UNAMA, . "What is needed is for the Taliban to stop deliberately attacking civilians and using IEDs indiscriminately, and to change their definition of 'civilian' and lawful targets in line with international humanitarian law."

UNAMA called on all parties involved in the conflict to comply with international law to take measures to protect civilians.

It recommended that anti-government elements stop "the indiscriminate and disproportionate use of IEDs, particularly in all areas frequented by civilians;" stop targeting civilians; stop attacking locations frequented by civilians; and hold accountable those members responsible for civilian casualties.

It called on the government to beef up its counter-IED strategy, train national security forces on civilian protection measures, investigate and track incidents involving national security forces and hold them accountable, investigate all allegations of human rights violations and punish those found responsible, disband local police groups involved in human rights violations and criminal acts and continue to disband and disarm all illegal armed groups.

Finally, it urged that international military forces increase training and resources -- particularly related to counter-IED work -- for national security forces; map, mark and clear unexploded ordnance from international military bases and firing ranges that have closed; review and investigate -- in collaboration with the government -- operations involving international security or intelligence forces that resulted in civilian casualties "and take appropriate steps to ensure accountability, better operational practice and compensation."

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