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Afghan civilian deaths rose 14% in 2009, says UN report

Children near Kabul
Civilians are suffering most in the conflict

The number of Afghan civilians killed in violence in 2009 was higher than in any year since the Taliban were ousted in 2001, a United Nations report says.

Civilian casualties rose by 14% in 2009 compared with 2008, the UN Mission in Afghanistan (Unama) reported.

It said the "vast majority" of the more than 2,400 civilian deaths had been caused by Taliban attacks.

Earlier this week, a report in Pakistan said that more than 3,000 civilians there had died in violence in 2009.

A third of those deaths were the result of suicide attacks in a year which saw a 45% increase in incidents related to terrorism, the report by the think-tank Pakistan Institute for Peace Studies said.

Overall violence-related deaths in Pakistan last year, including military operations against insurgents, increased to more than 12,500, the report said.

'Reducing risk'

The Unama report said 2,412 civilians had been killed in Afghanistan in 2009 compared with 2,118 in 2008.

US soldier on patrol in Afghanistan
The US is eager to win over civilian support on the ground

"The intensification and spread of the armed conflict in Afghanistan continued to take a heavy toll on civilians throughout 2009," the report said.

Civilian casualties are a sensitive subject in Afghanistan, with foreign forces frequently accused of killing non-combatants in airstrikes.

The UN report said that deaths attributed to allied forces dropped by nearly 30% in 2009 - a statistic which correspondents say will be welcomed by the US military.

In recent months it has made repeated assurances to the Afghan government that it will lower civilian casualties as part of its goal of gaining support on the ground among Afghan people.

"This decrease reflects measures taken by international military forces to conduct operations in a manner that reduces the risk posed to civilians," the Unama report said.

But it said that violence throughout 2009 had been unrelenting, defying the usual winter lull.

Correspondents say that there is now concern that casualties will further rise once Nato and the US deploy 37,000 more troops to try to stabilise the country.

The UN report says that because the Taliban insurgency escalated and spread from southern provinces where it began, the year 2009 was also the deadliest for foreign forces fighting the Taliban.

It said that previously stable areas, such as Kunduz province and elsewhere in the north-east, had witnessed increasing insecurity.

'Worst in recent times'

Unama figures show that there were 520 troop deaths throughout the year, up from 295 for the year before.

It said that 70% of last year's civilian deaths - representing about 1,681 people - had been caused by insurgent attacks, while pro-government forces including Nato and US troops had been responsible for 25% of civilian deaths (596 people).

Another 135 civilians had been killed in violence not attributed to the conflicting parties, it said.

"The year 2009 was the worst in recent times for civilians affected by the armed conflict," the report said.

"Unama recorded the highest number of civilian casualties since the fall of the Taliban regime in 2001."

The report comes in the same week as a poll commissioned by the BBC showed that most Afghans are increasingly upbeat about the state of their country.

Of more than 1,500 Afghans questioned, 70% said they believed Afghanistan was going in the right direction - a big jump from 40% a year ago.



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