Kabul: The number of Afghan civilian casualties has fallen for the first time in at least five years, dropping by 15 percent during the first half of 2012 compared to the same period last year, the United Nations said on Wednesday.

A total of 1,145 Afghan non-combatants lost their lives in violence, mostly insurgent attacks, between January 1 and June 30 this year compared to 1,510 in 2011, the UN said. Another 1,954 civilians were wounded, it said.

The United Nations said that marked a 15 percent decline on the 3,654 casualties documented during the same period in 2011.

It said previously that 2011 saw a record number of civilians killed in the decade-long war.

"This reduction of civilian casualties reverses the trend in which civilian casualties had increased steadily over the previous five years," the UN mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) said in a report.

The findings come as a US-led NATO mission prepares to withdraw the bulk of its 130,000 foreign combat troops from Afghanistan in the next 18 months.

Despite the decline in casualties, the United Nations warned that the war "continued to take a devastating toll on civilians".

It said the Taliban and other insurgents were responsible for 80 percent of the casualties while pro-government forces, which include the NATO force, were blamed for 10 percent. The remaining 10 percent was attributed to unknown groups.

NATO air strikes have been particularly controversial in Afghanistan, but the UN report said civilian casualties from air strikes were down 23 percent compared to the same period in 2011.

Women and children accounted for about 30 percent of this year's casualties up one percent from the same period in 2011 killed or wounded mostly in Taliban roadside bombings with IEDs, the insurgents' weapon of choice.

"Improvised explosive devices (IEDs) remained the leading cause of conflict-related deaths of women and children followed by ground engagements," the United Nations said.


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