As foreign troops in Afghanistan prepare for their final exit by the end of 2014, they're increasingly faced with the challenge of preventing civilian deaths, which have been on a steady rise for the past five years.
More than 3,000 civilians were killed in Afghanistan last year, the highest number since the start of the war between NATO and the Taliban, the United Nations reported Saturday.
The world body said 3,021 civilians were killed in 2011, mostly by insurgents. The number was an eight percent rise from 2010's figure of 2,790 and was the fifth consecutive year that saw an increase in civilian deaths.
The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) released the report, saying that improvised explosive devices were the single greatest killer of Afghan men, women and children, and that insurgents were increasingly targeting civilians.
"The tactics of choice of anti-government elements subjected Afghan civilians to death and injury with increasingly lethal results in 2011," UNAMA said in a statement.
Civilians targeted more often
The numbers rose despite calls from Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar last November to avoid killing civilians. Days after his plea, a suicide bomber killed a group of civilians outside a mosque. Anti-government insurgents were responsible for 77 percent of the civilian deaths in 2011.
"While the number of suicide attacks did not increase over 2010, the nature of these attacks changed, becoming more complex, sometimes involving multiple bombers, and designed to yield greater numbers of dead and injured civilians," UNAMA said.
The civilian death toll is a serious worry for the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), undermining its mission to secure the country and establish a stable democracy. Accidental killings of civilians by ISAF and Afghan forces constituted 14 percent of the total, or 410 deaths.
The United States announced earlier this week that it would speed up its handover of operations to Afghan forces, taking a backseat before the end of 2013. Foreign combat forces are due to exit Afghanistan by the end of 2014.
acb/slk (AFP, Reuters)