KABUL, Afghanistan – Taliban insurgents are carrying out more attacks this year than at any time since early in the war, killing increasing numbers of civilians as U.S.-led forces push into the militants’ southern strongholds, an Afghan rights group said Monday.
International troops were responsible for about one-fifth of civilian deaths – down from previous years, thanks to restrictive rules of engagement that some soldiers feel put their own lives at risk.
That so many noncombatants are dying shows that the international force has yet to succeed in its goal of protecting the Afghan people, whose trust and support are key components of NATO’s new counterinsurgency strategy in the nearly 9-year-old war.
At least 1,074 civilians died in the first half of this year, triple the number of international forces killed over the same period, the Afghanistan Rights Monitor said in a report that called 2010 the worst year for security since shortly after the demise of the Taliban regime.
Violence has soared as coalition forces, bolstered by 30,000 American reinforcements, move into Taliban strongholds in the south and east to try to wrest the areas from the militants, strengthen Afghan government control and win Afghans’ trust. The insurgents have responded with a wave of ambushes, suicide attacks, roadside bombs and assassinations.
The number of civilian deaths is up in 2010, though only slightly, over the previous year’s first half, but the number of insurgent attacks – and their share of the civilian deaths – has spiked.
Afghanistan Rights Monitor director Ajmal Samadi said the group recorded 1,200 violent incidents in June alone, the most in a single month since early 2002. The number included coalition actions such as airstrikes against insurgents, but Samadi said the vast majority were attacks by the Taliban and their militant allies.
“Insurgents are certainly carrying out more attacks across the country than at any time before,” Samadi said.
Fierce resistance had been expected in the south, but as reports of bombings and assassinations mount from all over the country, some ordinary Afghans are feeling increasingly uneasy.
“Unfortunately, I am hopeless with the current situation and I don’t see a bright future,” said Ahmad Fahim, 28, who works in the Education Ministry in Kabul.
The Taliban’s frequent use of homemade, hidden explosives on roads is just as likely to kill ordinary Afghans as security forces. The insurgents also target civilian government officials in a campaign of terror.
The share of accidental deaths by coalition and Afghan government forces is falling, the statistics showed.
Accidental deaths from NATO airstrikes dropped by half, to 94, and overall international forces were responsible for 210 civilian deaths from Jan. 1 to June 30 this year – down from 276 for the same period last year. Deaths attributed to Afghan security forces were down from 386 to 108.