KABUL (Reuters) – Violence in Afghanistan has reached its worst level since 2001 with more than 260 civilians killed in July alone, a group of 100 aid agencies said on Friday, calling on all sides to do more to protect the lives of non-combatants.
The number of insurgent attacks in Afghanistan was greater in both May and June than in any month since U.S.-led and Afghan forces toppled the Taliban in 2001, said the Agency Coordinating Body for Afghan Relief (ACBAR), an umbrella group of non-governmental organizations in Afghanistan.
“We, the 100 national and international NGO members of ACBAR, express our grave concern about the deteriorating security situation in Afghanistan and the serious impact on civilians,” ACBAR said in a statement.
The escalating violence has forced the agencies to restrict their humanitarian and development work at a time when drought and high food prices are putting more people under pressure.
Many schools and clinics have closed and significant numbers of people have become internally displaced. Aid agencies have been attacked and 19 NGO staff killed this year, ACBAR said.
The United Nations said the humanitarian challenge was growing in Afghanistan, with 12 of its aid convoys attacked by gunmen in the last six months.
“But we need the continued support of NGOs and the international community if we are to prevent further suffering,” said U.N. spokesman Aleem Siddique. “It is imperative that they remain committed to Afghanistan, the needs of it’s people cannot be met by the Government and the UN alone.”
The number of international troops in Afghanistan has gone up by more than 10,000 in the last year to some 71,000 and Afghan troop levels have also risen by around the same number, but the Taliban insurgency has still expanded both in scope and depth.
NATO commanders say violence is up by some 40 percent in eastern Afghanistan since spring this year, partly due to troops patrolling more areas, but also due to more militants able to cross from Pakistan due to ceasefires with the government there.
Some 2,500 people have been killed in the conflict this year, up to 1,000 of them civilians, and 260 of them in July alone, ACBAR said.
Some two-thirds of civilian deaths are due to insurgent attacks, it said, “especially the increasing use of suicide bombings and other indiscriminate attacks in civilian areas and the use of civilian property from which to launch attacks”.
Taliban insurgents in the south and east of the country “are mounting an increasingly vigorous, systematic terror campaign of threats, abductions and executions aimed against members of the civilian population”, ACBAR said.
But the increased number of air strikes by international forces, which it said were up by about 40 percent since last year, also contributed to the rising civilian death toll.
“Searches conducted by Afghan and international forces have on some occasions involved excessive use of force, extra-judicial killings, destruction of property and/or mistreatment of suspects,” the statement said.
ACBAR called on all parties in the conflict to take all possible steps to minimize civilian casualties and use proportionate levels of force.