|Suicide attacks in Afghanistan this year have become more complex, the UN report said [GALLO/GETTY]
The first half of 2011 has been the deadliest six months for civilians in Afghanistan since the decade-old war began, according to the United Nations mission in the country.
The number of civilians killed from January to June 2011 rose 15 per cent compared to the same period last year, said a report by the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) on Thursday.
"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 report said.
It added that plans to hand over security in parts of the country helped fuel the rise in casualties.
"Violence rose as (anti-government fighters) sought to demonstrate that Afghan security forces could not manage security on their own," the report said.
The mission said 1,462 civilians had been killed in conflict-related incidents.
It attributed the rise to a wide range of increased violence, including a greater use of improvised bombs, suicide attacks and targeted killings, as well as more ground fighting and a rise in casualties from NATO air strikes.
The annual mid-year report said anti-government fighters accounted for 80 per cent of all deaths.
Pro-government forces - including the Afghan police and army and NATO-led troops - were responsible for 14 per cent of civilian deaths, a drop of nine per cent. But air strikes, one of the most controversial tactics in the war, killed more people.
Air strikes carried out by the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) were the leading cause of civilian deaths by pro-government forces, so far killing 79 civilians in 2011, the report found.
This comes despite NATO reducing the number of deaths it was responsible for by nine percent.
Apache attack helicopters played a much more prominent role in civilian deaths, with 56 per cent of air strike deaths being attributed to those aircraft in the first half of 2011.
While the number of suicide attacks was largely unchanged, the number of civilians they killed increased 52
per cent, the largest rise in deaths from any tactic.
Anti-government fighters who have been squeezed in some of their traditional heartlands have tried urban attacks to underline their reach as NATO troops race to prepare Afghan forces for a security handover which begins this year.
"Suicide attacks in 2011 have become more complex, often using multiple bombers in spectacular attacks that kill many Afghan civilians," found the report.
Appeal for reduced violence
The UN representative in Afghanistan, Staffan de Mistura, said it had been in touch with the Taliban over its role in killing civilians.
"What we need from them is a factual change, or, in other words, a reduction of indiscriminate civilian casualties," he said at a press conference.
"They (Taliban) will not like this report, they will complain about it," he said, as he appealed for reduced violence during the holy fasting month of Ramadan due to begin across the Islamic world in two weeks' time.
The group last month condemned as "propaganda" UN data that blamed them for the deaths of more than 300 people in May, the deadliest month for civilians since it began tracking casualties in 2007.
The UN said civilian deaths from improvised explosives devices (IEDs) increased 17 per cent from the same period in 2010, making IEDs the single largest killer of non-combatants in the first half of 2011.
It also said the number of targeted killings of Afghan security and government personnel across the country rose to 190 from 181 in the same period in 2010.
Controversial night raids by US-led forces targeting suspected Taliban military leaders, accounted for two percent of civilian deaths, a slight decrease on the first half of 2010.
"However, resentment regarding these raids grew among the Afghan population," the report said. "Violent demonstrations sometimes followed night raids and led to deaths and injuries of civilians."