Report: Civilian Casualties Rising In Afghanistan

The United Nations has just issued its semi-annual report on civilian casualties in Afghanistan. While the war might be winding down for U.S. and international forces, Taliban violence continues, and the death toll among Afghan civilians is on the rise.

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And we're going to take a few minutes now to examine the war in Afghanistan. Two new studies offer very different vantage points on that conflict.

In a moment, we'll hear how the Pentagon thinks the military campaign is going. But first, how the war is affecting the people of Afghanistan. The United Nations has just released its semi-annual report on civilian casualties in the Afghan war, and the news is grim. Twenty-three percent more Afghans were killed or wounded in the first half of this year compared to the same period last year.

NPR's Sean Carberry begins our coverage.

SEAN CARBERRY, BYLINE: After years of increasing civilian casualties, the first half of last year saw a drop. It was a welcome change, but it didn't turn into a trend. The second half of 2012 saw an uptick, and that's continued.

Georgette Gagnon is the human rights director for the U.N. mission in Afghanistan. She says that the numbers this year are almost identical to 2011.

GEORGETTE GAGNON: That was a very violent year for Afghans. So we are concerned by the increases this first half of 2013.

CARBERRY: More than 1,300 civilians were killed, and 2,500 injured between January and June. As in previous years, Improvised Explosive Devices - especially pressure plate, or victim-activated IEDs - were the main culprit.

GAGNON: We've called, urged the insurgents - in particular, the Taliban - to stop using these kinds of IEDs completely.

CARBERRY: But, to no avail. The U.N. report says that children are especially vulnerable to IEDs. There's been a 30 percent increase in deaths and injuries among children in 2013. And Gagnon says there's another worrying trend as NATO troops continue to draw down.

GAGNON: What we've seen is Afghan forces and insurgents fighting each other, with an increase in civilian casualties from that type of fighting.

CARBERRY: The Afghan-on-Afghan fighting shows no sign of letting up. The U.N. says that insurgents are increasingly launching attacks on Afghan forces. Afghan forces themselves are suffering hundreds of casualties a month, and protecting civilians is not a high priority for them.

GAGNON: We know that Afghan forces have undertaken some training, but in our view, there needs to be increased efforts, clearly.

CARBERRY: While she says than Afghan forces can do more to reduce harm to civilians, Gagnon highlights the fact that the Taliban and other militants are responsible for three-quarters of civilian casualties - a higher share of them last year.

GAGNON: There's a big difference between deliberately attacking and killing civilians, which the insurgents do, and other kinds of civilian casualties, which are accidental.

CARBERRY: Accidental or not, it's troubling to U.N. officials that civilian casualties are rising, as NATO troops are withdrawing from Afghanistan. Sean Carberry, NPR News.

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