, KABUL, Jul 31 – Afghanistan’s intensifying conflict killed more than 1,000 civilians in the first six months of 2009, an increase of nearly a quarter over the same period last year, the United Nations said Friday.
This year has been the bloodiest in a Taliban-led insurgency that has drawn thousands of international military reinforcements, most of them deploying into areas where a strong militant presence could prevent August 20 elections.
The boost in troop numbers — now roughly 90,000 — was one reason for the higher toll of 1,013 dead civilians, according to the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) Human Rights Unit.
Nearly 60 percent of the civilian deaths so far this year were caused by insurgents, 30 percent by pro-government military forces and the rest unattributable to any party to the conflict.
The same period last year saw 818 civilians killed in insurgency-linked violence. In the first six months of 2007, 684 were killed — 41 percent by security forces and 46 percent by militants, it said in a report.
"The armed conflict intensified significantly throughout Afghanistan in 2008 and in the first six months of 2009, with a corresponding rise in civilian casualties and a significant erosion of humanitarian space," the unit said.
Reasons for the surge in violence were increased military operations in civilian areas, more complex insurgent attacks and a crackdown on extremists in neighbouring Pakistan that forced fighters into Afghanistan.
Militant activity was also sustained during the winter, unlike in previous years when there had been a lull in fighting, it said.
Almost a third of Afghanistan was now directly affected by insurgent activities with civilians bearing the brunt of the fighing, it added.
"In addition to the sharp increase in civilian deaths, vulnerable groups are also suffering in terms of destruction of vital infrastructure, loss of income and earning opportunities, and deterioration of access to essential services."
Most civilians were killed by insurgent bombs, called improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and suicide attacks, the report said.
The widespread use of IEDs "contributes to a climate of fear and intimidation that has significant repercussions for Afghan civilians, including in particular in terms of loss of life and livelihoods," it said.
Militants often target security forces but with no regard for the impact of their operations on civilians, it said.
The unit also said that militants based themselves in civilian areas as part of "an active policy aimed at drawing a military response to areas where there is a high likelihood that civilians will be killed or injured."
A new trend was the use of bombs that could be magnetically attached to vehicles. Schools, particularly for girls, came under increasing attack with 16 IED explosions on school premises this year.
International air strikes killed just over 64 percent of those civilians killed in military action and 20 percent of all civilian deaths from January to June, the report said.
These figures were down slightly and followed efforts to minimise the impact of military operations on civilians, the report said.
Such killings by pro-government forces created a "strong feeling of anger and disappointment among the Afghan general public" which undermined support for the international community generally, it said.
More has to be done by all, in particular the armed opposition, to reduce the impact of operations and activities on civilians, the report concluded.