Report: Insurgents Killed 669 Afghans

The Associated Press
Monday, April 16, 2007; 6:34 AM

KABUL, Afghanistan -- Insurgents committed war crimes by attacking ordinary Afghans and killing 669 civilians in 2006, the heaviest toll since the Taliban's ouster in 2001, according to a report released Monday.

Tallying records from non-governmental organizations and the media, Human Rights Watch counted 189 bombings in 2006 that killed 492 civilians. Another 177 civilians were killed in other attacks including ambushes and executions.

"The insurgents are increasingly committing war crimes, often by directly targeting civilians," said Joanne Mariner, terrorism and counterterrorism director at the New York-based rights group. Even when targeting security forces, "they generally kill many, many more civilians than they do military personnel."

Human Rights Watch noted that anti-government forces were not the only ones responsible for civilian deaths, and that at least 230 civilians were killed during coalition and NATO operations last year.

Exact casualty figures from previous years are not available, but the increase in insurgent attacks last year indicate that "2006 was the deadliest year for civilians in Afghanistan since 2001," the report said.

The data underlines the dangers facing Afghans more than five years after a U.S.-led invasion raised hopes that the country could emerge from decades of war.

Suicide bombings, once rare in Afghanistan, occurred on a regular basis in 2006. Two suicide attacks were reported in 2003, six in 2004, and 21 in 2005. Last year, the number of suicide attacks shot up to at least 136, killing 272 civilians and wounding 531, the 116-page report said.

Eighty of those suicide attacks were on military targets, but they killed nearly five times more civilians than security forces _ 181 civilians compared to 37 Afghan or international security forces.

"The Taliban are starting to look like some of the insurgent groups in Iraq," said Michael Shaikh, who conducted research for the report. "These guys are more about fighting the global jihad. ... It's a much more dangerous Taliban."

The Taliban have claimed responsibility for more than two-thirds of recorded bomb attacks, mostly in the most volatile south and southeast.

Hezb-i Islami, a faction of which follows renegade former Afghan Prime Minister Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, appears to be involved in attacks in the east and north, the report said.

The report cited 190 attacks on teachers, school officials, students and schools, up from 91 such attacks in 2005.

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