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U.N. report on Afghanistan notes surge in attacks, killings

By Ernesto Londoño
Sunday, June 20, 2010; A09

KABUL -- Security in Afghanistan has deteriorated markedly in recent months, with a spike in roadside bombs, complex attacks and assassinations, according to a U.N. report released Saturday.

The report comes as the U.S. military is deploying an additional 30,000 troops to Afghanistan this summer in an effort to quell a rebounding insurgency.

The surge in violence has prompted U.S. lawmakers to ask pointed questions about the Obama administration's Afghanistan strategy, while U.S. commanders have urged caution, saying that they are making progress under difficult circumstances.

Roadside bomb attacks during the first four months of the year increased by an "alarming" 94 percent, compared with the same period last year, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said in the organization's quarterly report to the Security Council.

The United Nations also reported a 45 percent increase in assassinations, saying an average of seven people were killed each week during the first four months of the year. Most of the assassinations occurred in southern and eastern provinces, where several government officials have been killed in recent months.

U.N. officials said the number of coordinated attacks has also increased, with an average of two per month, roughly double last year's average. Two of the recent coordinated attacks targeted guesthouses used by foreign civilians in the capital and Helmand province, in southern Afghanistan.

"The shift to more complex suicide attacks demonstrates a growing capability of the local terrorist networks" linked to al-Qaeda, the report said.

As thousands of new U.S. troops have begun arriving in Afghanistan, NATO casualties have also spiked. At least 53 NATO troops have been killed this month, including 34 U.S. service members. If the casualty rate remains steady, June could become the deadliest month for the U.S.-led international force in the nearly nine-year war.

The U.N. report said that at least 395 people died as a result of armed conflict between April and June, a decrease of 1 percent compared with the same period in 2009. Insurgent attacks caused about 70 percent of those deaths, the United Nations said, slightly more than during the last reporting period. The agency recognized NATO's efforts to avoid civilian casualties, which include more judicious use of airstrikes.

However, NATO forces continue to rely on airstrikes. On Saturday, officials said that troops fired "precision airstrikes" in self-defense during clashes with the Haqqani insurgent group along the border of Khost and Paktia provinces, which border Pakistan. The Haqqani group, which has close ties to the Afghan Taliban, has emerged as one of the biggest threats to NATO troops.

NATO officials said they were investigating reports from local officials who said civilians were killed in the airstrikes.

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