The human cost of the Afghan conflict is escalating, with killings and attacks on children by the Taliban and other insurgent groups soaring, the United Nations said in a report released Tuesday.
"Afghan children and women are increasingly bearing the brunt of this conflict," says Staffan de Mistura, special representative of the U.N. secretary-general.
"They are being killed and injured in their homes and communities in greater numbers than ever before."
According to the United Nations' 2010 Mid-Year Report on Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict, in the first six months of this year, 55 percent more children were killed or wounded by the Taliban and other anti-government groups than in the same period in 2009.
The number of women killed or wounded by the Taliban and other insurgents increased by six percent.
The report says casualties caused by pro-government forces, including the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and Afghan security forces, fell 30 percent in the first six months of 2010.
From January 1 to June 30, 2010, the UNAMA Human Rights Unit documented a total of 3,268 civilian casualties, including 1,271 deaths and 1,997 injuries.
Anti-government forces were responsible for 2,477 casualties. That is 76 percent of all casualties, up 53 percent from 2009.
Pro-government forces were responsible for 386 civilian casualties, 12 percent of all casualties, down from 30 percent in 2009.
The United Nations notes two lethal developments: Insurgents, it says, are using more improvised explosive devices (IEDs) throughout the country and are assassinating and executing more civilians.
IEDs alone accounted for 29 percent of all civilian deaths in the period, including 74 children, a 155-percent surge from the same span last year.
Assassinations and executions, meanwhile, soared by more than 95 percent and included the public executions of children.
Aerial attacks are the most harmful tactic used by ISAF forces, causing 69 of the 223 civilian deaths attributed to pro-government forces in the first six months of 2010 - a total of 31 percent - and injuring 45 Afghan civilians.
However, civilian deaths caused by aerial attacks decreased 64 percent from the same period in 2009, according to the report. The United Nations says this reflects greater implementation of an ISAF tactical directive from July 2009 on regulating the use of airstrikes and other measures to reduce civilian casualties.
ISAF, in a statement, said the new U.N. report is consistent with figures tracked by ISAF headquarters.
It quoted Gen. David Petraeus's new tactical directive, in which he says, "We must continue our emphasis on reducing the loss of innocent civilian life to an absolute minimum.
"Every Afghan death diminishes our cause. While we have made progress in our efforts to reduce coalition-caused civilian casualties, we know the measure by which our mission will be judged is protecting the population from harm by either side. We will redouble our efforts to prevent insurgents from harming their neighbors."