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Report: Children, women casualties on rise in Afghanistan

An injured Afghan girl is treated at a hospital after a roadside bomb in Afghanistan's capital city, Kabul. Hoshang Hashimi / AP, file

Women and children are bearing the brunt of a “disturbing” rise in violence against civilians in Afghanistan, a United Nations report said Wednesday.

Compared with the same period last year, there was a 30 percent leap in the number of youngsters killed, as civilian casualties overall spiked by almost a quarter, according to the Mid-Year Report on the Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict.

Altogether, between Jan. 1 and June 31, 2013, there were 760 child casualties (231 killed, 529 injured) and conflict-related violence killed 106 women and injured 241 during the same period – a rise of 61 percent from the same span in 2012.

The total civilian death toll was more than 1,300, with 2,533 reported injuries, the study released by the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) found.

“The growing loss of life and injuries to Afghan women and children in 2013 is particularly disturbing,” the Director of UNAMA’s Human Rights Unit, Georgette Gagnon, said at a news conference to launch the report.

“Deaths and injuries to women and children increased by 38 percent in the first half of 2013, reflecting a grim reality of the conflict today in Afghanistan,” she added. 

Both Afghan security forces and anti- government insurgents were found to be responsible for civilian deaths, but 74 percent of those were caused by militants, who are increasingly targeting members of the public they believe to be cooperating with the government, the report concluded.

In the past, the Taliban said anyone supporting President Hamid Karzai's, Western-backed government was a legitimate target. 

The biggest killers were improvised explosive devices (IEDs), which claimed 53 percent more victims than last year, with 443 killed and 917 injured.

“The increase in the indiscriminate use of IEDs and the deliberate targeting of civilians by Anti-Government Elements is particularly alarming and must stop” said the UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan and head of UNAMA, Ján Kubiš.

The mounting casualties are coming as many foreign troops are preparing to leave Afghanistan next year and Georgette Gagnon said that insurgents were taking advantage of this.

"The stepped-up transition of security responsibilities from international military forces to Afghan forces and closure of international forces' bases was met with increased attacks by anti-government elements," she said.

Then she urged insurgents to "stop deliberate targeting and killing of civilians and withdraw orders that permit attacks" on legal personnel, clergy and government workers. 

She also implored them to halt their use of IEDs.

The report also concluded that Afghanistan's government should revise and strengthen its tactical directives particularly in relation to IED and, tighten up their rules of engagement and other procedures to ensure full compliance with legal obligations to protect civilians. 

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