By Sardar Ahmad (AFP) – Dec 29, 2009
KABUL — Civilian deaths in Afghanistan rose more than 10 percent in the first 10 months of 2009, UN figures showed Tuesday, amid anger over the alleged killing of children in a Western military operation.
Figures released to AFP by the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) put civilian deaths in the Afghan war at 2,038 for the first 10 months of 2009, up from 1,838 for the same period of 2008 -- an increase of 10.8 percent.
The figures were released a day after President Hamid Karzai launched an investigation into reports that 10 people, most of them school children, were killed in a raid by foreign troops near the Pakistan border.
The UN calculations show the vast majority, or 1,404 civilians, were killed by insurgents fighting for the overthrow of Karzai's government and to eject Western troops.
UNAMA said 468 deaths were caused by pro-government forces, including NATO and US-led forces, and 166 by "other actors".
Civilian deaths at the hands of foreign forces fuel distrust between the Afghan population, the government and US and NATO troops, even though most of the deaths are caused by insurgent tactics such as homemade bombs.
In 2008, a total of 2,118 civilians were killed in the crossfire, the highest such toll since the 2001 US-led invasion removed the Taliban from power and sparked a fierce insurgency by remnants of the regime.
The war blighting Afghanistan is now into a ninth year and has escalated through 2009 as more international troops have been injected into the theatre, leading to more battles with Taliban-led militants.
More than 110,000 foreign troops are battling the insurgency, under US and NATO command, with that figure set to rise to around 150,000 by late 2010 with the arrival of another 30,000 US and 6,800 NATO troops.
The Taliban are increasingly relying on homemade bombs, which exact a horrific toll on civilians and military alike, with foreign troop deaths at a record 507 this year.
Militant leaders rarely claim responsibility for incidents that kill large numbers of civilians, but frequently fan anger by using the civilian casualties as propaganda to sway local opinion against the foreign military presence.
US General Stanley McChrystal, who commands the US and NATO forces in Afghanistan, has made it a central tenet of his new strategy that civilian casualties should be minimised.
On Saturday in eastern Kunar province, a raid by Western forces is reported to have killed 10 civilians, eight of them school children, Afghan officials said, prompting an outcry from Karzai.
The circumstances surrounding the incident remained unclear with NATO's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) saying they had no knowledge of civilian deaths in Kunar, but Karzai vowed an investigation.
"The president was seriously saddened and angry yesterday over the Kunar province incident," said Karzai's spokesman Waheed Omar.
"More efforts must be made to prevent such incidents," he told reporters, adding that Karzai would raise the sensitive issue at a summit on his country in London next month.
"One of the ways that we think can help prevent civilian casualties is that Afghan security forces should be positioned on the frontlines," he said.
Training Afghanistan's fledgling security forces is a key plank of US President Barack Obama's strategy for drawing down troop numbers, although the police and army suffer from lack of recruits and funding.
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