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Afghan Taliban target women

By: Golnar Motevalli

THE number of civilian casualties in Afghanistan has decreased for the first time in six years, said the UN, but targeted killings by insurgents — particularly of women, girls and government employees — increased dramatically.

In its annual report on the protection of civilians in armed conflict, the UN recorded 2,754 Afghan civilians being killed in 2012, a decrease of 12 per cent compared with 2011, and 4,805 being injured, a slight rise.

The overall decline was attributed in part to one of the worst winters on record impeding fighting. Fewer suicide bomb attacks and a fall in the number of air strikes also helped ease 2012’s death toll.

But the report showed a 20 per cent increase in the number of women and girls killed or injured. Deliberate targeting by the Taliban and other insurgents also tripled in 2012, said the UN. Most were hit while in their homes or working in fields.

Of the 854 female casualties, 504 were a result of insurgent attacks, while foreign and Afghan troops were responsible for 155 deaths and injuries. Tragically, however, more than 200 female casualties were unattributable and could only be explained by the UN as a result of “the explosive remnants of war”.

The UN warned about the sanctioned use of local militias and their recruitment to the Afghan Local Police, particularly in the north and northeast of the country. The ALP is a localised militia-based force whose training was suspended by US forces in September owing to a dramatic rise in the number of inside attacks carried out by recruits.

According to the UN, the use of the ALP “unintentionally contributed to expand and solidify the power of armed groups” in the north.

The north saw some of the worst targeted assassinations by insurgents of government employees, a tactic which also spiked, the report said, resulting in a dramatic 700 per cent increase in the number of civilian casualties attributed to this type of violence in 2012.

By contrast the number of Afghan civilians killed by Nato-led and Afghan security forces dropped by nearly 40 per cent.

A spokesman for the Taliban dismissed the report, calling it “a vehicle of propaganda against” the group. “…You cannot find a single operation by the Taliban in which civilians have been killed … We are raising a jihad … for the freedom of the Afghan people,” said Zabiullah Mujahed.

The UN also said it had identified a shift in the Taliban’s public relations efforts.

The group’s promotion of insider attacks on foreign troops and the pin-pointing of military targets, the report said, showed “a heightened awareness” by Taliban leadership of a need to publicly demonstrate that it wants to protect Afghan civilians, and win “hearts and minds”.