Civilian Casualties In Afghan War Dip For First Time In Six Years

The U.N. reports that for the first time in six years, casualties in the Afghan war have decreased. There was sharp drop in the number of dead and wounded attributed to attacks by Afghan government and Western forces.

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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

In the war in Afghanistan, civilian casualties have decreased for the first time in six years. That's according to a U.N. annual report released today. Still, as we hear from NPR's Sean Carberry in Kabul, that's about the extent of the good news in the report.

SEAN CARBERRY, BYLINE: U.N. officials attributed the drop in casualties to four factors. Fewer civilians were caught in crossfires, the Taliban conducted fewer suicide bombings, NATO reduced the number of airstrikes and international and Afghan forces implemented new procedures focused on protecting civilians. In 2012, NATO and Afghan forces reduced civilian casualties by 46 percent over the previous year. But casualties attributed to the Taliban and other militants increased, accounting for 81 percent of all civilian casualties in 2012.

GEORGIA GAGNON: Conflict-related violence increased as it affects women and girls.

CARBERRY: Georgia Gagnon is the human rights director for the U.N. mission in Afghanistan. She says 20 percent more women and girls were killed in the conflict last year. All told, more than 4,800 Afghans were injured and 2,700 killed in 2012.

GAGNON: The biggest killer of civilians remained improvised explosive devices.

CARBERRY: While IEDs are generally indiscriminate killers, they're not the only weapon in the Taliban arsenal.

GAGNON: Civilian casualties from targeted killings of civilians by anti-government elements increased by 108 percent.

CARBERRY: Jan Kubis, the U.N. special representative for Afghanistan, points to one of the more shocking figures of the report.

JAN KUBIS: There is a 700 percent increase in the killing and harming civilians that are perceived to work in favor of the government.

CARBERRY: This includes civil servants and tribal and religious leaders. Kubis called these targeted killings war crimes. And there's another worrisome detail in the numbers: the first half of 2012 saw significant reduction in casualties compared with the same period the year before. That's in large part because of an unusually long winter. But the second half of the year saw a 13 percent increase over the same period in 2011. That increase coincided with the end of the U.S. troop surge, which raises questions about how Afghan civilians will fare this year with fewer foreign troops on the ground.

Sean Carberry, NPR News, Kabul.

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