Afghan civilian casualties rise as Nato pulls out

KABUL (AFP) - The number of civilians killed and wounded in Afghanistan rose 14 per cent last year, the United Nations said on Saturday, as NATO troops draw down after more than a decade of war.

A total of 8,615 civilian casualties were recorded in 2013, with 2,959 killed and 5,656 wounded, according to the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan's (UNAMA) annual report.

The death toll almost reached the record of 2011, with UNAMA saying that civilians killed or wounded in the crossfire of fighting between government and Taleban-led insurgent forces marked a new trend last year.

UNAMA put this down to the reduction of ground and air operations by the United States-led NATO force as it withdraws by the end of 2014.

Afghan forces have been taking an increasing role in the fight against the Taleban as the coalition pulls out.

More than 50,000 NATO-led combat troops who are still in Afghanistan are due to leave by the year-end.

Last year also marked the highest casualties for women and children with a 36-per cent increase in women and 34-per cent increase in children's casualties, the report added.

Most of the casualties to women and children were caused by "ground engagements" and improvised explosive devices (IEDs), the Taleban's weapon of choice.

The rise in deaths, up seven per cent from 2012, and injuries, up 17 per cent, reverses the decline recorded the previous year.

"The trend has been reversed in comparison to what we were telling here last year," Mr Jan Kubis the UN envoy in Afghanistan told reporters.

"In 2012, we were very happy to report the decrease, not anymore, unfortunately." The death toll almost matches the peak figure of 3,133 recorded in 2011.

The conflict has claimed the lives of 14,064 civilians in the past five years.

UNAMA attributed the vast majority - 74 per cent - of civilian deaths and injuries to "anti-government elements" led by the Taleban.