Armed conflict in Afghanistan is taking an increasing toll on civilians, according to figures released by the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA).
At least 5,978 civilians were killed or injured in 2009, UNAMA said in a report entitled Annual Report on Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict 2009.
“UNAMA Human Rights [unit] recorded a total of 2,412 civilian deaths between 1 January and 31 December 2009. This figure represents an increase of 14 percent on the 2,118 civilian deaths recorded in 2008,” said the report released on 13 January 2010.
Afghans in the southern provinces of Helmand, Kandahar, Nimruz, Uruzgan and Zabul, where the conflict is the most intense, were the most severely affected, the report said.
The average monthly number of security incidents was 960 in 2009 - up from 741 in 2008 (a 29.6 percent rise). “The conflict has intensified: it has spread, affecting previously tranquil areas, such as in the northeast, and deepened as it has moved from rural to urban areas.”
The conflict has also destroyed infrastructures and livelihoods, displaced communities, and eroded the quality and availability of basic services in the country, it said.
Taliban killed most
The report said the Taliban killed 2.73 times more civilians in 2009 than pro-government forces.
UNAMA blamed Taliban insurgents for 1,630 civilian deaths (67 percent of the total recorded deaths) in 2009 - a 41 percent increase on 2008, when 1,160 deaths were attributed to the insurgents.
Improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and suicide attacks killed 1,054 civilians (44 percent of the total deaths). The insurgents have also been accused of 225 targeted assassinations and the execution of tribal elders, teachers, doctors and humanitarian workers.
Civilian casualties resulting from military operations by pro-government Afghan and foreign forces dropped by 28 percent in 2009 compared to 2008, according to UNAMA. In total 596 civilian deaths (25 percent of total) were attributed to Afghan and foreign forces.
Over 180 deaths could not be attributed to any of the conflicting parties and resulted from cross-fire or unexploded ordnance.
“There is no room for complacency,” warned Aleem Siddique, UNAMA’s spokesman, adding that pro-government forces must do more to minimize the impact of their fighting on civilians.
In an email statement the Taliban challenged the credibility of UNAMA’s report and accused the organization of disseminating incorrect and biased information.
“Partial judgment, and blind support of one side and condemnation of the other, only irreparably harms your credibility,” said the statement addressed to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.
UNAMA rejected the Taliban accusations and said it has a mandate to impartially report civilian casualties of war based on reliable facts and the testimonies of victims.
“Our figures have been challenged by both sides of the conflict and that proves the firm impartiality of our work,” Aleem Siddique told IRIN.
“Code of conduct”
According to the UNAMA report, Taliban killings of civilians breach a “code of conduct” issued by “supreme leader” Mullah Omar in July 2009, which instructed Taliban fighters to win over the civilian population and avoid civilian casualties.
“It is unclear whether any measures are in place to give effect to, or monitor compliance with, this ‘code of conduct’,” said the report.
“This is a war for hearts and minds and no side of the conflict can win without the confidence and respect of the Afghan people,” said Siddique.