Associated Press' analysis found that deaths related to the anti-government campaign in Afghanistan were 55 per cent higher in the first nine months of 2007 compared to last year.

 

Taliban violence

 

According to AP, 650 of the 5,000 were civilians, accounting for 13 per cent of the overall deaths.

 

That number includes 309 civilians killed by Taliban violence, but also 314 killed by US or Nato action, according to figures from Western and Afghan officials.

 

But these are assertions that the US and Nato sometimes dispute.

 

Twenty-nine civilians in the count were killed during crossfire situations.

 

The majority of deaths so far this year - 3,544, or 70 per cent of the total - have been fighters killed by US and Nato military action or by Afghan forces. And those numbers are likely low.

Almost 5,100 people have died in suicide bombings, gun battles, air raids, and roadside bombs around Afghanistan through the first nine months of the year, according to an AP count based on figures from Afghan, US and Nato officials.

Dramatic increase

 

The number represents a 55 per cent increase over the first nine months of 2006. The AP count recorded 4,019 deaths in all of 2006.

 

Afghanistan's southern provinces, the country's opium poppy-growing belt, is the most violent region in the country.

 

The area, and particularly Helmand province, has seen a large influx of fighters this year.

 

Helmand alone has seen 1,591 deaths, mostly anti-government fighters. The province to its east, Kandahar, is the second deadliest region at 743 deaths.

 

June was the deadliest month, with 1,017 deaths - almost 20 per cent of the year's total so far.

 

Hamish MacDonald, Al Jazeera's correspondent speaking from Kabul, said: "ISAF command do not deny the AP figures but they say these are irrelevant because they give no indication of either the success or failure of the counter-insurgency."

 

He said the response from the US military was similar ... "they wouldnt' disagree or confirm them, but they did acknowledge an increasing level of engagement between their fighters and fighters from the Taliban and al-Qaeda over the past four months."

 

Italian dead

 

In other news concerning Afghanistan, an Italian intelligence agent who was kidnapped last month in that country and wounded during a Nato-led raid that freed him, died on Thursday, Italy's defence ministry said.

 

Lorenzo D'Auria, 33, was one of two Italian agents briefly abducted by captors who Nato identified as Taliban.

 

The two were freed by Italian and British special forces. But D'Auria suffered bullet wounds in his head and neck and had to be put on a respirator soon after his release.

 

The other Italian was also wounded in the raid, although not seriously.

 

Both were flown back to Italy for hospital treatment.