Hamid Karzai
Hamid Karzai

Kabul:  The number of Afghan civilians, including children, killed in violence rose by nearly 17 per cent in the first half of this year, compared with the same period in 2013 as the fight is increasingly taking place closer to homes in populated areas, the UN said today.

The worrying trend comes as the Taliban and other militants grow bolder with their attacks on Afghan security forces in the fight for control of key routes and other territory ahead of the withdrawal of US and allied combat troops by the end of 2014.

Afghans have frequently been caught up in the violence threatening their country, but the 85-page biannual UN report said that so far this year clashes, rockets and mortar strikes killed more civilians than roadside bombs and suicide attacks, a change from the past when most civilian casualties were blamed on roadside bombs.

It said the shift was directly related to the closure and transfer to Afghan security forces of more than 86 bases belonging to the US-led coalition as well as an increase in assaults against a growing number of Afghan checkpoints and patrols near markets and public roads.

“This heightened their exposure to attacks … and often led to civilians, particularly women and children, being caught in the crossfire,” the report said.

The findings were especially troubling because they threaten to undermine confidence in Afghan soldiers and police who are struggling to show they can protect the people as most foreign forces leave by the end of the year.

President Barack Obama has said he wants to leave nearly 10,000 troops in Afghanistan to help train Afghan security forces and to stage counterterrorism operations.

But outgoing President Hamid Karzai has refused to sign a bilateral security agreement that would allow the Americans to stay, saying he was leaving the decision to his successor.

In all, 1,564 civilians were killed from January through June, compared with 1,342 in the first six months of 2013, the UN said.

That included a 21 per cent jump in the death toll for children, with 295 killed so far this year compared with 243 in the same period the previous year.

Meanwhile, the number killed from ground engagements including mortar attacks and rocket-propelled grenades that hit homes, agricultural fields and playgrounds during the same period more than doubled, from 219 to 474.

Roadside bombs killed 463 civilians and suicide bombings and other complex attacks killed 156, the report said.

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