Civilian deaths increase in Afghanistan

Troops on Patrol in Afghanistan According to the United Nations, 2009 was the deadliest year for civilians in Afghanistan since the ouster of the Taliban government in 2001.

The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan’s Annual Report on Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict, 2009 reports that at least 2412 Afghan civilians died as a result of the war last year, up 14% from the 2118 reported killed in 2008.

Most of the 2009 deaths, 1630 (67%), were attributed to the Taliban or other anti-government elements. Pro-government forces (Afghan government and international coalition forces) were reported to be responsible for 596 deaths, or 25% of the total. Another 186 deaths (8%) could not be attributed.

According to the UN figures, the number of deaths caused by pro-government forces in 2009 was 28% lower than it was in 2008, primarily as a result of a major drop in the number of civilians killed by coalition air strikes (359 in 2009, compared to 552 in 2008). In July 2009 the new commander of the international forces, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, declared that there would be tighter restrictions on the use of air power against residential compounds to try to avoid “excessive use of force resulting in an alienated population”.

Such statistics are useful in assessing the trends in the conflict in Afghanistan. But the collection of such data is fraught with difficulties, as conflicting accounts of a deadly incident yesterday in Helmand province illustrate.

Photo by Jamie Wiseman.

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