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AFGHANISTAN: Civilian casualties reportedly peak in August

KABUL, 5 September 2007 (IRIN) - One hundred and sixty-eight civilians died in armed conflicts, suicide attacks, improvised explosions and aerial bombardments in Afghanistan in August, the country’s human rights watchdog told IRIN on 4 September.

August marked a 16.6 percent increase in civilian deaths over July when 144 non-combatants reportedly lost their lives, the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) said.

“Two thirds of the 168 civilian deaths happened in military operations conducted by international forces against their opposition,” said Mohammad Farid Hamidi, an AIHRC official.

Air strikes by the US army have repeatedly been criticised as a fighting tactic as they inflict heavy losses on local communities, the Afghan human rights organisation said.

Hamidi, however, did not exclusively blame US and NATO-led Western forces for the dozens of civilian casualties.

“The Taliban use civilians as human shields and use perfidious tactics, which endanger ordinary people’s lives,” Hamidi acknowledged.

The AIHRC accused all sides of not providing civilian protection during their military operations.

Investigating civilian causalities

Insecurity has impeded access to conflict areas making it very difficult, if not impossible, for impartial observers to assess the impact of the fighting on civilians.

At least 750 civilians have lost their lives in insurgency-related violence so far this year, the UN told a Western media outlet on 2 September, a 20 percent increase on 2006.

While the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) has selectively shared its confidential statistics on civilian casualties with a few Western media outlets, a senior Afghan official said the organisation is not mandated to “do body counting” in the country.

In an effort to end confusion about civilian casualties, the country’s human rights body has decided to set up an independent unit to regularly investigate, authenticate and report incidents in which armed conflicts affect people’s lives.

“We call on all parties to the conflict to ensure our access to conflict-affected areas and help us disclose reliable facts about incidents in which civilians are harmed,” Hamidi said.

The UN also keeps a secret tally; it collects and verifies reports of civilian casualties in Afghanistan for the organisation’s internal use only.

US and NATO-led international troops based in Afghanistan have often refuted reports of civilian casualties in their military operations against Taliban insurgents.

"In a number of cases we have gone out and investigated, where they have claimed there were civilians killed and in fact those were unfounded," Reuters quoted US Army Brig-Gen Perry Wiggins as saying.

Taliban insurgents have also refuted reports that their fighters, in clear violation of the rules of war, deliberately harm civilians in their hit-and-run attacks.

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Copyright © IRIN 2007
This material comes to you via IRIN, the humanitarian news and analysis service of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. The opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the United Nations or its Member States.
IRIN is a project of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.



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