Afghan civilian casualties fall 15 percent in first half of year

KABUL Wed Aug 8, 2012 8:00am EDT

KABUL (Reuters) - Civilian casualties in Afghanistan dropped 15 percent in the first six months of the year, despite a recent surge in militant attacks, with deaths blamed on NATO-led troops and Afghan forces declining sharply, the United Nations said on Wednesday.

Afghan civilian deaths have been one of the biggest irritants in relations between President Hamid Karzai's government and its Western backers.

The latest readout also marked the first time in five years civilian casualties have declined.

The figures showed 1,145 civilian deaths between January 1 and June 30, as well as 1,954 civilians wounded, representing a 15 percent decrease over the same period last year. About a third of those killed or wounded were women or children.

"We must remember that Afghan children, women and men continue to be killed and injured at alarmingly high levels," said Nicholas Haysom, the U.N.'s deputy director in the country.

"I call on all parties to the conflict to increase their efforts to protect civilians from harm and to respect the sanctity of human life."

Reflecting the pattern of past years since the United Nations began tracking statistics in 2007, anti-government insurgents were responsible for 80 percent of civilian casualties.

Pro-government forces, counting the NATO-led coalition and Afghan forces, were responsible for 165 civilian deaths and 131 people wounded, down 25 percent on the first half of last year. Most deaths attributed to NATO were the result of air strikes.

(Reporting by Mirwais Harooni; Editing by Rob Taylor and Jeremy Laurence)

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