Afghanistan ends year on mixed note
KABUL, Afghanistan — Violence in Afghanistan fell in 2012, but more Afghan troops and police who are now shouldering most of the combat were killed, according to statistics compiled by The Associated Press.
At the same time, insider killings by uniformed Afghans against their foreign allies rose dramatically, eroding confidence between the two sides at a crucial turning point in the war and when NATO troops and Afghan counterparts are in more intimate contact.
“The overall situation is improving,” said NATO spokesman U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Lester T. Carroll. He singled out Afghan special forces as “surgically removing insurgent leaders from the battle space.”
Gen. Mohammad Zahir Azimi, spokesman for the Afghan Ministry of Defense, said Afghan forces are charged with 80 percent of security missions but are not well equipped to handle the most lethal weapon of the militants — roadside bombs.
“Our forces are out there in the battlefields and combat areas more than at any other time in the past,” he said, citing reasons for the increase in casualties.
Death toll drops
U.S. troop deaths, overall NATO fatalities and Afghan civilian deaths dropped as terrorist attacks fell off in their traditional strongholds in the country's south and east. Activity, however, was up in the north and west, where the Taliban and other groups have been less active in the past, and overall levels of violence were higher than before the troop surge more than two years ago.
U.S. troop deaths declined overall from 404 last year to 295 as of Saturday. The Defense Department said 1,701 U.S. troops have been killed in action in Afghanistan from the U.S. invasion in 2001 through Dec. 26. Of those, 338 died as a result of non-hostile causes. Statistics show 18,154 were wounded.
A total of 394 foreign troops, including Americans, were killed in 2012, down from 543 in 2011. The British, with the second-largest military presence, had 43 killed — the second-highest toll among countries with forces in Afghanistan, according to AP's count.
The AP keeps daily tallies of casualties and violent incidents across Afghanistan based on reports from NATO and Afghan officials. Most cannot be independently verified, and other incidents may never come to light. The statistics sometimes vary from official counts because of time lags, different criteria and other reasons.
Deaths from so-called insider attacks — Afghan police and troops killing foreign allies — surged to 61 in 45 attacks last year compared with 2011, when 35 coalition troops were killed in 21 attacks.
The number, provided by the NATO command, does not include the Dec. 24 killing of an American civilian adviser by a female member of the Afghan police because the investigation is ongoing.
The focus of NATO's mission has largely veered from the battlefield to training the Afghans before a pullout of most troops by 2014. The United States plans to maintain a residual force, the size of which is being determined.
A NATO report that tracks violence in the country showed a rise this year compared with the period before the surge of U.S. troops into the country. But the levels were down from last year and a peak in the summer of 2010. Kabul and the country's second-largest city, Kandahar, recorded a considerable drop in lethal attacks, but districts in Kandahar province remain among the most restive in Afghanistan.
Militant attacks, the report said, decreased countrywide by 7 percent through November compared with the same 11-month period last year. But they were up in the northern and western parts of the country, which previously had been among the most peaceful regions.
Support still critical
Although NATO officials frequently credit Afghan troops with successful unilateral operations, a recent U.S. congressional report noted that higher-level Afghan units still need vital air, logistics and other support from foreign forces.
More Afghan police and soldiers are dying in the conflict, according to numbers provided by the interior and defense ministries.
More than 1,050 Afghan troops died this year, substantially higher than last year, although the ministry could not provide the exact 2011 death toll.
Nearly 1,400 police died in the 10 months from March 21 to the end of the year, compared with about the same number for the 12 months beginning March 21, 2011. The Afghan government follows a calendar year starting March 21.
NATO said Afghan security forces have grown from 132,000 in March 2011 to 333,000 this month.
The AP tally showed that at least 822 Afghan civilians had been killed by the Taliban and other militants this year while 119 died in NATO airstrikes and other operations. That was a decrease from last year, when 1,151 were killed by insurgents and 283 by NATO. Substantially smaller numbers perish when caught in crossfires.