The number of Afghan civilians, including children, killed in violence rose by nearly 17 per cent in the first half of this year, compared with the same period in 2013 as the fight is increasingly taking place closer to homes in populated areas, the UN said Wednesday.
The worrying trend comes as the Taliban and other militants grow bolder with their attacks on Afghan security forces in the fight for control of key routes and other territory ahead of the withdrawal of US and allied combat troops by the end of 2014.
In one such attack early Wednesday against the governor’s compound in the southern city of Kandahar, six people including two police officers were killed when 11 insurgents wearing bomb vests tried to take over the small complex.
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The attack began when one insurgent blew up the car he was in an attempt to breach the compound’s gates, killing four civilian bystanders. Police and security forces killed all 11 attackers, said Dawa Khan Minapal, a spokesman for the governor.
Afghans have frequently been caught up in the violence threatening their country, but the 85-page biannual UN report said that so far this year clashes, rockets and mortar strikes killed more civilians than roadside bombs and suicide attacks, a change from the past when most civilian casualties were blamed on roadside bombs.
“Ground engagements or ground fighting among parties to the conflict has now become the leading cause of civilian causalities,” said Georgette Gagnon, The UN mission’s Human Rights Unit Director.
US President Barack Obama has said he wants to leave nearly 10,000 troops in Afghanistan. But outgoing President Hamid Karzai has refused to sign a bilateral security agreement that would allow the Americans to stay, saying he was leaving the decision to his successor.
In all, 1,564 civilians were killed from January through June, compared with 1,342 in the first six months of 2013, the UN said.
Tensions surrounding the April 5 election and a June 14 runoff vote to replace Karzai, the only leader that the country has known since the US invasion that ousted the Taliban in 2001, also took a toll on civilians, with 173 deaths from attacks targeting electoral officials, polling centers or candidates and their supporters.
Karzai was barred from seeking a third term. The two candidates who faced off in the disputed second round, Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, have both promised to sign the security pact with the US.