Afghan Civilians Suffer During Violent Year

There is renewed fighting in Kandahar as the outcome of the Afghan presidential election remains uncertain. And a new U.N. report says civilian casualties are up significantly from a year ago.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

In Afghanistan, almost two dozen militants have stormed a government complex in the southern city of Kandahar. Afghan officials say all the militants have been killed, along with several police officers and civilians. That is just one of several attacks by Taliban militants in the troubled aftermath of a presidential runoff. At the moment, the country's two presidential contenders are both claiming victory. NPR's Sean Carberry joined us from Kabul for more. Good morning.

SEAN CARBERRY, BYLINE: Good morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: And let's get an update on that political and verbal battle between the candidates, Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah. Their rhetoric has gotten quite a bit out of control since preliminary results in this runoff were released on Monday. And I emphasize preliminary because some of the reaction has treated these results as if they were the final results.

CARBERRY: Right. Even the election commission, when they announced the results, cautioned that these are preliminary. And there will be a process of auditing and final results could change. But yesterday, candidate Abdullah held a huge rally in Kabul, where he declared himself the winner, despite being more than a million votes behind in a preliminary account. And he says that he's not going to recognize a fraudulent outcome. His supporters actually called on him to unilaterally declare his own government, which he says he was contemplating but needed a few days to think about it. And President Obama ended up calling both candidates to warn them, last night, that resorting to violence or illegal power grabs would cost Afghanistan its international support. But President Obama did reiterate the U.S. position that there was clearly extensive fraud in the vote. And the results won't be legitimate until there is a substantial audit.

MONTAGNE: Well, when is that audit taking place?

CARBERRY: Well, it's unclear right now. Ashraf Ghani has agreed to the audits of some 30 percent of the votes. And he's asking the elections commission to carry it out. But Abdullah, who was really the first one to bring up the topic of an audit, still hasn't agreed to the terms. So that's still in a holding pattern right now.

MONTAGNE: Well the fact, though, that President Obama has gotten involved and Secretary of State John Kerry appears headed for Afghanistan, suggests it's pretty serious.

CARBERRY: Yes, it is. And yesterday's rhetoric from Abdullah certainly raised a lot of concerns. His supporters were very agitated yesterday and disappointed, when he wouldn't declare his own government. They were urging him to do it. One powerful governor in Afghanistan has already declared Abdullah the legitimate ruler of the country, so that certainly increased a lot of tension about where things are heading in the wake of these results.

MONTAGNE: And Sean, there's other news today. The U.N. in Afghanistan issued a report on civilian casualties in that conflict. What is the U.N. saying?

CARBERRY: Well, the U.N. says that civilian casualties are up 24 percent in the first half of this year, over last year. And that's a result of what they say are shifting dynamics in the conflict. There's a substantial increase in ground engagements - battles between militants and Afghan forces. Previously, improvised explosive devices were the biggest killer of civilians. But now these ground engagements have become more dangerous for civilians. And the U.S. says there's more fighting going on in and around populated areas, around homes schools and playgrounds. The U.N. says there's also a growing use of mortars and rockets, both by Afghan forces and militants. And these are very imprecise weapons that often hit schools or homes or other civilian targets, accidentally.

MONTAGNE: Well, briefly, does the U.N. report draw a line between the drawdown and increased casualties?

CARBERRY: They do. What they see is that there's actually been an increase in violence in some of the areas where NATO bases have closed down. They say militants have more freedom of movement in some parts of the country, now that there are fewer NATO troops here. The Taliban have said all along that they're fighting a foreign occupation. Yet as foreign troops have withdrawn, the violence hasn't decreased.

MONTAGNE: Sean, thanks very much. That's NPR's Sean Carberry speaking to us from Kabul. And you're listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

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