Afghan civilian deaths rise as violence escalates

However number of civilians killed by international forces is dropping.

US troops Afghanistan 311 (photo credit: Associated Press)
US troops Afghanistan 311
(photo credit: Associated Press)
KABUL, Afghanistan — The number of civilians killed so far this year in Afghanistan has reached 1,074 as escalating violence is now the worst since the early months of the nearly 9-year-old war, an Afghan rights group said Monday.
However, the share of civilians killed by international forces is dropping — and the number dying in NATO air-strikes has halved — thanks to restrictive rules of engagement issued last year, the Afghanistan Rights Monitor said.
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Despite speculation that newly arrived coalition commander Gen. David Petraeus would change the policy, which critics say increases danger to American and other foreign troops, a NATO spokesman reiterated over the weekend that would not happen.
Violence has soared across Afghanistan in recent months, as 30,000 more US troops arrived to bolster the international force. The reinforcements are moving into Taliban strongholds in the south and east of the country to try to strengthen Afghan government control, and insurgents have responded with a wave of ambushes, suicide attacks, roadside bombs and assassinations.
The war's escalation has taken a huge toll on the Afghan people, with 212 civilians killed last month alone, said Ajmal Samadi, director of the independent Afghanistan Rights Monitor, which compiled its statistics from interviews with witnesses, families of victims, local officials and media reports.
The group, which is supported by private donations, recorded 1,200 violent incidents in June, the highest number in any single month since 2002.
"In terms of insecurity," it said in a new report, "2010 has been the worst year since the demise of the Taliban regime."
Last month was also the deadliest of the war for coalition forces, with 103 international troops killed, 60 of them American.
The majority of the civilians killed so far this year — 61 percent — died in insurgent attacks, particularly from roadside bombs the Taliban plant across the country, said the group.
"What we are concerned about is that with the arrival of Gen. Petraeus ... those measures might be changed in a way that would allow international forces to use more firepower," Samadi said. "Then you could be back in a situation where more civilians could die."
The rules are unpopular among many, including some troops who believe they cost American lives and force them to give up the advantage of overwhelming firepower to a foe who shoots and melts back into the civilian population.
NATO spokesman Brig. Gen. Josef Blotz, however, stressed that Petraeus is committed to the current rules of engagement.
"Our strategic imperative to reduce civilian casualties has not and will not change," he told reporters Sunday.