Civilian deaths at 10-year high as Taliban increase suicide attacks

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More civilians are dying in Afghanistan than at any time during the past decade, a new United Nations report says, as the war spreads to previously safe parts of the country and insurgents increase their use of suicide bombers, child soldiers and homemade bombs. The grim arithmetic for the first six months of the year includes 1,462 civilians killed, 80 per cent of them by insurgent groups, and another 2,144 wounded, a 15 per cent jump on the same period in 2010.

"The rising tide of violence and bloodshed in the first half of 2011 brought injury and death to Afghan civilians at levels without recorded precedent in the current armed conflict," the UN mission in Kabul said yesterday.

It added that the true total was likely to be higher than reported, as the closure of one of its offices following a deadly attack had left it unable to collect some data. Among the more harrowing examples of the worsening conflict – and increasingly brutal tactics – was the Taliban's increased use of child soldiers, some as suicide bombers.

On 12 May, a 12-year-old killed three civilians and injured 12 others in eastern Afghanistan. He was the youngest recorded suicide bomber.

There were also increasing numbers of women suicide bombers, the report said and, in one instance, "insurgents instructed an eight-year-old girl to take a package of explosives to a police vehicle. The insurgents remotely detonated the bomb, killing the girl."

The report singled out for particular censure the Taliban's "unlawful" use of homemade bombs, its assassination campaign against civilian officials and its attacks on hospitals.

Nato also came in for some criticism. The UN found that the number of civilians killed in air strikes "particularly by Apache helicopters" had increased, especially in Afghanistan's east and south-east, where Nato has not been able to meet an intensifying insurgency with as many ground troops as it has devoted to the southern flashpoints of Helmand and Kandahar.