The number of Afghan civilians killed has dropped 36 percent so far this year compared with last, the U.N. said Wednesday, the first time the death toll has declined over multiple months since the United Nations started keeping track.

The senior U.N. envoy for the country, Jan Kubis, called the trend promising but cautioned that too many civilians were still being caught up in the violence as insurgents fight Afghan and foreign forces.

Kubis' office said 579 civilians were killed in the first four months of this year, down from 898 killed in the same period of 2011. The number of wounded dropped from 1,373 to 1,216 in the January to April period.

James Rodehaver, a U.N. human rights officer in Afghanistan, noted the death toll has sometimes declined from month to month since the U.N. started tracking attacks in 2007, but never over such a sustained period.

The Taliban and their allies are responsible for most civilian casualties, according to U.N. figures. In the first four months of 2012, anti-government forces caused 79 percent of civilian casualties and Afghan and foreign forces 9 percent, Kubis said in remarks in Kabul. It was not clear who was responsible for the remaining 12 percent of the casualties, he said.

In a reminder of the dangers facing Afghans, a roadside bomb killed three district government employees on their way to work Wednesday in eastern Nangarhar province's Deh Bala district, said district chief Asrarullah.

Two NATO coalition service members also were killed Wednesday in southern Afghanistan — one by a homemade bomb and the other by an insurgent attack, the coalition said, without providing further details.

The deaths raised the number of coalition troops who have died in Afghanistan this year to 174.

Kubis also urged the country's allies Wednesday not to neglect social and economic aid to Afghanistan as they commit to funding government security forces.

Afghanistan needs billions of dollars in international support to survive economically and avoid descending into further chaos as the U.S. and other countries in the NATO coalition seek to withdraw most of its combat forces by the end of 2014, both the Afghan government and its allies have said.

Kubis said he believes the $4.1 billion needed each year to support and continue training Afghan security forces starting in 2015 "will be reached and is achievable." The Afghan government is slated to provide just $500 million of that.

Last year, Afghanistan received $15.7 billion in aid, representing more than 90 percent of its public spending, according to the World Bank.

In the north, meanwhile, Taliban attacked a hilltop police post in Badakhshan's Warduj district late Tuesday, triggering heavy fighting that killed eight policemen and six militants, according to the provincial governor's spokesman, Abdul Maruf Rasikh. Two policemen and 11 militants were also wounded, he said Wednesday.

The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack in a statement sent to reporters by the group's spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid.

Badakhshan province is relatively peaceful but has experienced periodic attacks. Two foreign doctors and their three Afghan colleagues were kidnapped last week in Badakhshan.


Associated Press writers Amir Shah, Rahim Faiez and Sebastian Abbot contributed to this report.