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Afghan deaths have decreased as good news? Not so fast


Afghan army officers at the National Military Academy in Kabul. (AFP/Getty Images)



The headline news is good: civilian deaths and injuries in Afghanistan have fallen for the first time in six years. 

Military planners in the Pentagon and NATO headquarters will be especially pleased as they withdraw combat troops and hand over responsibility for security to the Afghans. What's more, the vast majority of those deaths are not their fault, either.  Last year 7,559 Afghans were killed or injured, a 12 per cent decrease from 2011 according to a new UN report this morning. Insurgents are responsible for an overwhelming 81 per cent of those casualties. 

Deaths have fallen since 2007 when the UN began keeping track of these figures. There are four reasons for the decline including fewer suicide attacks, aerial operations, on-the-ground fighting and "other measures taken by pro-government forces to minimize harm to civilians."

But a closer look at the details shows something far more worrying. There's a 700 per cent increase in the targeted killings of Afghan government employees. The UN describes this as "staggering."Overall, assassinations increased by 108 per cent compared to 2011: 1,077 dead or injured. These range from ordinary Afghans to prominent community figures. In one case, five day labourers working on an international military site were kidnapped and murdered. In another case, a female civil servant was killed by a suicide bomb while shopping for a pair of sandals for her daughter.  Attacks on women and girls have also increased, by 20 per cent, to 864 deaths and injuries compared with 2011. 

In the long term this is troubling. Killing Afghans who work for the government will make it difficult for the nation to rebuild itself without the help of outsiders.  It is going to be difficult to recruit civil servants, police officers, or teachers if they fear they will be killed for the work they do. Many Afghans I've spoken to over the years fully realize they will have to take care of their own when the western militaries and aid organizations leave. 

President Hamid Karzai's posturing doesn't help. He unapologetically refers to the Taliban as "our brothers", is quick to criticize US air power when it kills innocent civilians and the Afghan intelligence services when they fail to thwart an attack on population centres. But the UN figures show pro-government forces are responsible for only 8 per cent of civilian casualties.

These bleak facts and figures makes it hard for Afghans to have faith in their future.

Hamida Ghafour is a foreign affairs reporter at The Star. She has lived and worked in the Middle East and Asia for more than 10 years and is author of a book on Afghanistan. Follow her on Twitter @HamidaGhafour


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