Image: An Afghan woman wearing a burqa waits for alms with her child during a snowstorm in Kabul
Ahmad Jamshid  /  AP
An Afghan woman wearing a burqa waits for alms with her child during a snowstorm in Kabul, Afghanistan, Friday.
By
updated 2/4/2012 3:17:36 AM ET 2012-02-04T08:17:36

Last year was the deadliest on record for Afghan civilians with 3,021 killed, a rise of 8 percent from the year before as insurgents ratchet up violence with roadside bombs and suicide attacks, the United Nations said Saturday.

Taliban-affiliated militants were responsible for more than three-quarters of the civilian deaths in 2011, the fifth year in a row in which the death toll went up, the U.N. said.

The figures were a grim testament to the violence the Taliban and allied Islamist militants can still unleash in Afghanistan, even as NATO begins to map out its plan for international troops to draw down and give Afghan security forces the main responsibility for fighting insurgents by the end of 2014.

The number of civilians killed in suicide attacks jumped dramatically to 450, an 80 percent increase over the previous year as militants set off increasingly powerful bombs in public places.

Insurgent-planted roadside bombs remained the single biggest killer of civilians last year.

'Highest price'
The homemade explosives, which can be triggered by a footstep or a vehicle, killed 967 people — nearly a third of the total.

The United Nations decried the insurgents for using the indiscriminate weapons, which the report compared to laying anti-personnel land mines among the general population.

Slideshow: Scars of war: Mine victims (on this page)

"Afghan children, women and men continue to be killed in this war in ever-increasing numbers," said Jan Kubis, the U.N. Secretary-General's special representative to Afghanistan. "For much too long, Afghan civilians have paid the highest price of war."

The 130,000-strong coalition force led by the U.S. says it has been hitting the Taliban hard, seizing their one-time strongholds while expanding and training the Afghan army and police to take over primary responsibility for waging the decade-old war. Still, insurgent attacks are killing more and more civilians, according to a detailed annual U.N. report.

"As 2011 unfolded, ordinary Afghan people experienced growing intrusion into and disruption of their daily lives by the armed conflict in their country," the report said.

Video: Ending combat in Afghanistan (on this page)

Last year was the deadliest year for Afghan civilians recorded by the U.N. since it started keeping a detailed civilian casualties five years ago.

The number of deaths was 8 percent higher than the previous year and roughly double the number from 2007.

Overall, 3,021 civilians died in violence related to the war and 4,507 were wounded. Of the deaths, the UN attributed 77 percent to insurgent attacks and 14 percent to international and Afghan troops. Nine percent of cases were classified as unknown.

Worrying rise
The number of civilian deaths caused by insurgents was up 14 percent over 2010, the U.N. said.

"It is extremely worrying to see civilian casualties continuing to rise year after year,' said Navi Pillay, the U.N.'s High Commissioner for Human Rights. "Behind these numbers is real suffering and loss for families in Afghanistan."

Last year was also the second-deadliest year of the decade-long war for international forces in Afghanistan, with at least 544 NATO troops killed. The coalition has been in Afghanistan since the aftermath of the 2001 American-backed intervention to topple the Taliban, which followed the hard-line Islamist regime's refusal to hand over al-Qaida terrorist chief Osama bin Laden, who sponsored the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the U.S.

Interactive: The cost of war (on this page)

While the total number of civilian deaths caused by international and Afghan forces backing President Hamid Karzai's government dropped by 4 percent from the previous year, the number of civilians killed by air strikes targeting insurgents rose to 187 in 2011, accounting for nearly half the deaths attributed to coalition and Afghan troops.

The number of civilians killed during controversial, coalition-led night raids on homes dropped to 63 in 2011, down 22 percent from the previous year, the U.N. said.

Night raids by U.S. and Afghan special operations teams are a source of resentment among many Afghans, though the NATO force says they have led to the death or capture of dozens of Taliban figures. Karzai has demanded an end to night raids.

The U.N. also noted a shift in where the violence affecting civilians was centered in Afghanistan.

In 2010, the provinces with the highest numbers of civilian casualties were the southern Taliban strongholds of Helmand and Kandahar, where an increased number of U.S. troops pushed to take back territory from insurgents.

While those two provinces still had the most deaths in 2011, their numbers dropped, while civilian deaths went sharply up in southeastern provinces including Khost and Paktika, and the eastern provinces of Kunar and Nangarhar.

All those areas lie along Afghanistan volatile border with Pakistan, where many of the Taliban's leaders and the al-Qaida-allied Haqqani network are believed to be based.

Most of the fighting has shifted to those areas over the past year.

Insurgents also intensified an assassination campaign against people associated with the Afghan government. The U.N. report documented 495 targeted killings in 2011, including provincial and district government officials, peace council members and pro-government tribal elders. Assassinations were up 3 percent from the previous year and up 160 percent from 2009.

Among the highest profile assassination victims last year was former President Burhanuddin Rabbani, head of the high peace council charged with seeking talks with the Taliban. He was killed by a suicide bomber claiming to carry a message from the insurgents.

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Video: Ending combat in Afghanistan

  1. Closed captioning of: Ending combat in Afghanistan

    >>> the other big news and it is big news in washington today. concern cans america's longest war in afghanistan , a war where we have been fighting and funding the enemy at the same time by virtue of a whole litany of systems, defense secretary leon panetta saying the u.s. will seek to end their combat mission by the end of 2013 . the white house dialing pack on panetta's commentary saying no official decision has been made. we have 89,000 boots on the ground . that number is expected to drop to 23,000 by the end of the year. our next guest has worked in kabul since the beginning of the war and is out with a new book claiming that we, the american po policymakers, deliberately have missed opportunities to take down the taliban and stabilize a massively-volatile region. lucy morgan is an advisor. she's the author of "the afghan solution." take us to the kruks of this, lucy .

    >> he was a well-known commander during the 1980s . and he was brill yant in a warfare against the communists in kabul . he conducted some of the operations that really contributed to taking down that regime. and he did this, he was very clever. this wasn't about attacking civilians. this was really about penetrating the civil service and the army. one of the operations was blowing the 7th story underground dump in 1987 . that was an event that turned that war. now in the runup to 9/11 and two years prior, he realized that the taliban were very unpopular. he started working with a group of some of his former commanders. some of whom were embedded in the taliban . and tribal leaders. the ex-king was to be the symbolic glue to hold them together. they met in rome and istanbul. and they were really ready early january 2001 . they were ready to have an internal rebellion. the problem was that washington didn't want to support this. and so finally by july, he made a deal with the north. they agreed to work together. but then 9/11 happened, and the crucial thing was that he insisted that the west should not bomb afghanistan . they bombed afghanistan , some of them were moderate people that he was targeting. they would possibly retreat and have other people coming into the country from pakistan and the extremist al qaeda elements and it would be difficult for him to maintain contact to stop this rebellion. it was crucial. he was arguing that the west not bomb afghanistan .

    >> do you suggest though, lucy , that the decision to ignore that advice and do engage in a massive aerial bombing campaign over the course of a decade run by guys with joy sticks in las vegas playing a video game of murder over the skies of afghanistan that that decision was made and is being made deliberately? in other words, are you suggesting that the dysfunction you just described was a strategic decision e made on a policy level that says we want to appear to be fighting a war in afghanistan through the theater of reigning hell fire from the sky because it's good for us politically in america, but we actually do not want to engage tactically to resolve the power dysfunction in afghanistan to enhance stability? is that a correct interpretation?

    >> absolutely. because the thing was he recognized that there was a window of opportunity. if the west started bombing, that the northern ae license would breakthrough taliban front lines and take kabul and they would have the reigns of power, as it were, that you had had the war lords coming back. guys who were unpopular with the pop lists because of what they had done in the early '90s. but once they were installed in kabul , it would be difficult to have a balanced ethnic representation. some groups would be left out, which is why many of them are gravitating back towards the taliban . but this is part of the problem. they have been completely alienated from the center.

    >> and very briefly, does it matter at this point when the united states leaves afghanistan relative to the chaos and instability that is there and will persist?

    >> obviously, there are questions of how many bases the u.s. wishes to maintain. whether they'll have a complete pullout. but after ten years, we have not managed to build up any structures. even the national security forces that nato and the u.s. is trumting as their root to exit has massive problems. the ethnic representation, huge problems with that. and it looks as though we'll be having civil war on several different levels.

    >> thank you for the reporting. ruthless though it may be, better to know than to pretend it doesn't exist. thank you so much.

Interactive: The cost of war

  1. Above: Interactive The cost of war
  2. US Marine Sergent John Cox of 1st Combat
    Manpreet Romana / AFP/Getty Images
    Data Timeline: The war in Afghanistan

Photos: Scars of war: Mine victims

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  1. Gholam Rasool and Mohammad Aref

    The UN Mine Information Network estimates that after 30 years of conflict in Afghanistan, approximately 62 people are killed or injured by land mines each month in the country. These portraits of survivors of mines were taken in December 2010, in Herat, Afghanistan.

    Wheelchair-bound Gholam Rasool, 30, lost his feet three years ago after stepping on a land mine. Mohammad Aref, 35, stands behind him. Aref lost a leg nine years ago. (Majid Saeedi / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Nader Haidari

    Nader Haidari, 37, lost his feet seven years ago after stepping on a mine.

    About 70 countries are affected by landmines or explosive remnants of war, the Electronic Mine Information Network estimates. (Majid Saeedi / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Farahnaz

    Farahnaz, 30, from Herat, lost her leg three years ago.

    The U.N. estimates that 300 square miles of land in Afghanistan are mined. (Majid Saeedi / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Gholam Sarvar

    Gholam Sarvar, 54, a doctor from Herat, lost his legs 12 years ago. (Majid Saeedi / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Fatemeh and mother

    Fatemeh, 42, stands next to her mother, who lost her leg three months ago.

    The U.N. estimated that $589 million would be spent in 2010 on mine action initiatives worldwide. (Majid Saeedi / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Inayatullah

    Inayatullah, 48, whose feet were damaged by a land mine eight years ago, now sells mobile calling cards to survive. (Majid Saeedi / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Mohammad Aref

    Mohammad Aref, 35, lost his leg nine years ago. (Majid Saeedi / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Jan Agha

    Eight-year-old Jan Agha from Herat lost a foot and a hand a year ago. (Majid Saeedi / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Abdol Hamid

    Five-year-old Abdol Hamid from Ghoor was injured by a bomb explosion two weeks before this photo was taken. (Majid Saeedi / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Azizallah, Hashmat, Jalil and Vali Allah

    Sitting right to left, Azizallah, Hashmat, Jalil and Vali Allah all lost feet and limbs. (Majid Saeedi / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Aziz Allah

    Aziz Allah, 49, lost his feet 10 years ago. (Majid Saeedi / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Mohammad

    Mohammad, 44, a police officer from Herat, lost his legs 18 years ago. (Majid Saeedi / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Noor Mohammad

    Noor Mohammad, 46, a gardener from Herat, lost both feet 20 years ago after stepping on a land mine. (Majid Saeedi / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
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