Despite public outrage in Afghanistan over a spate of civilian deaths at the hands of American and NATO forces, two new reports on the war show the Taliban is responsible for a huge percentage of civilian deaths in Afghanistan.
On Wednesday, the United Nations released a report showing 2,777 Afghan civilians were killed in the conflict there in 2010, 15 percent higher than the previous year. Seventy-five percent of those deaths, the report says, were attributable to the Taliban.
On Thursday, Science magazine released a report based on data supplied by American-led allied forces that show far fewer Afghan civilian causalities – 2,537 in 2009 and 2010 combined -- and attributed 80 percent of deaths to the Taliban.
But both civilian casualty counts showed that while Afghanistan has become more deadly for civilians in the last year, it hasn’t been the result of coalition forces. While civilian deaths were up 19 percent from 2009 according to the military numbers and 15 percent according to the U.N. study, “there are signs that ISAF has become a safer fighting force, treading more lightly on local populations,” said the magazine article. “Although the overall death toll in Afghanistan has risen, the increase was not wrought by soldiers.”
According to the military’s statistics, more than 90 percent of last year’s spike in civilian deaths was the fault of insurgents. At the same time, U.N. data show a 26 percent drop in the number of civilians killed by soldiers, Science magazine reported.
But the United Nations did find a much higher civilian death rate, which military officials said was attributable to the U.N. reporting civilian deaths in all 34 provinces as opposed to the military, which only counts deaths in areas where it can make firsthand observations about its actions. Officials also note that survivors and family members often claim those killed were innocent civilians while the military maintains they were insurgents.
Gen. David Petraeus, the top American commander in Afghanistan, told Fox News in an exclusive interview this week that despite the mishaps, the U.S. has done an impressive job reducing unintentional deaths.
"The fact is that our troopers and our Afghan partners have reduced ... in 2010 ... civilian casualties during the course of our operations by some 20 or 21 percent," Petraeus said. "That is a very significant accomplishment given that our combined forces expanded by 100,000 during that period and, of course, went on the offensive in a very big way."
As the number of military-related civilian deaths drop, Afghan citizens are starting to take a more critical eye to the Taliban’s actions. Three weeks ago, a team of Taliban fighters and suicide bombers robbed a bank in Jalalabad, killing more than 40 Afghans in the process. When the bank's security tape hit the airwaves, Afghans were shaken by images of the brutal attack.
In one portion of the video a Taliban fighter is seen shooting two innocent men at point-blank range with a Kalashnikov rifle, a fatal mistake for its cause, said the governor of Wardak province, Halim Fidai.
"They are gradually losing the support of the people," Fidai told Fox News. "I can tell you that 95 percent of the people never want Taliban-type government to return at all, that's very clear."
But even as the Taliban deliberately targets innocents, U.S. forces are still facing resentment among the Afghan population for civilian casualties.
Just days after the bank shooting, the U.S. acknowledged killing nine Afghan boys in a botched effort to hit insurgents.
In the days following, President Hamid Karzai rejected an apology from Gen. David Petraeus. On Monday, Defense Secretary Bill Gates made a surprise visit to the region and apologized again during a televised press briefing from Kabul.
But just a day after Gates departed, one of Karzai’s own relatives was mistakenly shot by allied troops searching for insurgents.