A report released over the weekend by the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan said the civilian death toll of the war there hit an all-time high in 2011. According to the report (PDF), 3,021 civilians died last year in fighting or violent attacks, up eight percent from the 2010 number and nearly double the figure for 2007. Civilian deaths rose for the fifth straight year.
The U.N. placed responsibility for the majority of killings squarely on the shoulders of the Taliban and allied anti-government forces, blaming them for more than three quarters of civilian deaths. Here’s a chart from the U.N. report attributing blame for civilian killings in 2010 and 2011, with blue representing anti-government forces’ responsibility and red representing pro-government forces’ responsibility:
Improvised explosive device (IED) attacks, which accounted for 45 percent of anti-government attacks in a six month period in 2011, caused more civilian deaths — 967 total during 2009 through 2011 — than any other tactic used by anti-government forces. But targeted killings, accounting for nearly 500 deaths in that period, and suicide bombings were also on the rise.
Aerial attacks accounted for the most civilian deaths caused by pro-government forces, which include the U.S.-led international coalition there. The U.N. report noted a nine percent uptick from 2010 to 187 such deaths in 2011. Night raids, which international forces continue to carry out over objections by Afghan president Hamid Karzai, saw a 22 percent drop in civilian deaths from 2010, down to just 63 in 2011.
The report paints a bleak picture for Afghan civilians, with injuries from fighting also on the rise. The report said:
As 2011 unfolded, ordinary Afghan people experienced growing intrusion into and disruption of their daily lives by the armed conflict in their country. Conflict and insecurity displaced 185,632 Afghans in 2011, an increase of 45 percent from 2010.
Thousands more Afghans lost their livelihoods and property, were denied access to justice, had their right to freedom of movement restricted or taken away, and had their access to food, health care and education compromised. The unremitting toll of civilian casualties coupled with pervasive intimidation affected many civilians directly, and many more indirectly, by fueling uncertainty, tension and fear.
With the first signs of possible peace talks and an imminent transition from U.S.-led forces to Afghan forces, the U.N. report called for both sides of the conflict to reaffirm and enforce international humanitarian law.