A U.S. Army soldier is carried on a litter outside the trauma ward after he… (Chris Hondros, Getty Images )
Reporting from Kabul, Afghanistan —
Afghanistan has become a far more dangerous place for Western troops and Afghan civilians alike, with an increase in suicide attacks, roadside bombings and political assassinations in the first four months of 2010, the United Nations said in a report released Saturday.
The gloomy assessment comes on the heels of congressional testimony last week by senior U.S. military officials who acknowledged that efforts to stabilize Afghanistan's volatile south are proving more complex and time-consuming than anticipated.
With the U.S. troop numbers in the country approaching the 100,000 mark, the Western military toll has been rising sharply as the summer "fighting season" unfolds. More than 1,000 U.S. service members have died in the nearly 9-year-old conflict.
"There has been a great deal of 'kinetic activity'" as Western and Afghan forces confront insurgents in the south, German army Brig. Gen. Josef Blotz, a spokesman for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization's International Security Assistance Force, told reporters Saturday in Kabul, the capital. That is the term the military uses to describe battlefield clashes.
The U.N. report, submitted by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to the Security Council and released by the world body's mission in Afghanistan, notes a near-doubling in the number of attacks involving roadside bombs.
It describes an "alarming" 94% increase in bomb attacks from the same January-April period a year earlier. Roadside bombs planted by the Taliban and other insurgents are generally aimed at foreign troops, but because they are planted on routes used by everyone, they kill and maim many civilians as well.
The report also cites an average of three suicide bombings a week across Afghanistan, a growing number of them attacks involving more than one assailant, sometimes in combination with use of rockets, mortars and gunfire.
Targeted killings of Afghan officials had increased by 45%, the report says, with most taking place in the south, where the insurgency is strongest. The killings tend to target locally influential figures, such as tribal elders and other dignitaries who might be able to rally villagers and townspeople to resist the Taliban.
In one recent example, the district governor in Arghandab, a strategic gateway to the city of Kandahar, was killed in an insurgent bombing. NATO had touted the district as an area in which headway was being made in winning over the populace and improving security
Western officials have been describing their own campaign in the south as a combined political and military effort, and systematic assassinations appear aimed at sapping the will of local officials and others seen as cooperating with foreign forces or the Afghan government.
The U.N. report takes a more hopeful tone about some recent political developments, including nascent efforts by the government of President Hamid Karzai to woo Taliban foot soldiers away from the fight.
It notes, though, that "in general, the Taliban have reacted negatively to peace and reconciliation."