The Washington Post | Afghan civilian deaths hit record high in 2011, U.N. report says

Posted on February 4, 2012 by The Washington Post

By Kevin Sieff

Last year was the deadliest for civilians in the decade-long U.S.-led war in Afghanistan, according to a United Nations report released Saturday. The report said 3,021 civilians were killed in 2011, an 8 percent increase from 2010. It was the fifth consecutive year that the number of deaths has increased.

The insurgency was responsible for the vast majority of the casualties, at least 2,332, according to the report. Most of the victims were killed by either improvised explosive devices (IEDs) or suicide bombers. The use of both tactics increased sharply over the past 12 months. Civilians were often the targets of those attacks, rather than collateral damage from an attack on military personnel.

The report describes a deteriorating security situation as NATO’s war effort begins to ebb, and as the United States pursues negotiations with an insurgency that shows no sign of relenting. Meanwhile, Western officials have described the Taliban’s power as waning, pointing to a 20 percent decrease in the number of coalition troops killed last year.

But the U.N. report suggests that the number of foreign troops killed is a poor indicator of the Taliban’s ability to foment unrest.

Even if the insurgency’s ability to fight conventional forces has diminished, it remains a major source of instability in the country’s southern and eastern provinces, where deadly attacks often target civilians. Suicide bombings killed 410 civilians last year, 80 percent more than in 2010. In the report, U.N. officials called such shifts “changes in the tactics of the parties to the conflict.”

The report attributed about 400 of the deaths to NATO and Afghan forces, a small decrease from 2010, with aerial attacks responsible for about half of those casualties. NATO-led night raids, a longstanding source of tension between the United States and President Hamid Karzai, accounted for 63 deaths, down 22 percent from the previous year.

“Afghan children, women and men continue to be killed in this war in ever-increasing numbers,” said Ján Kubiš, U.N. secretary-general’s special representative for Afghanistan. “For much too long Afghan civilians have paid the highest price of war.”

The conflict last year also had an unprecedented impact on refugees, forcing 185,632 Afghans from their homes in 2011, an increase of 45 percent from the previous year.