Afghan toll put at 1,000 for '06

Human Rights Watch said most of the civilians died at the hands of antigovernment forces.

KABUL, Afghanistan - More than 1,000 civilians were killed in Afghanistan in 2006, most of them as a result of attacks by the Taliban and other antigovernment forces in the country's unstable south, a rights group said yesterday.

Human Rights Watch said that at least 100 of the civilian deaths were caused by NATO and U.S.-led troop operations, far below an estimate by an Afghan rights group.

In all, more than 4,400 Afghans - civilians and combatants - died in conflict-related violence, twice as many as in 2005 and more than in any other year since the United States helped oust the Taliban in 2001, Human Rights Watch said in a statement.

An Associated Press tally based on reports from Afghan, NATO and coalition officials puts the overall death toll slightly lower, at about 4,000, most of them insurgents.

NATO, although it occasionally releases tallies of civilian deaths in certain incidents, does not keep overall track of such deaths.

Taliban-led guerrillas launched a record number of attacks last year and engaged in several pitched battles with foreign troops, who now number more than 40,000, the most since the fall of the extremist militia.

Human Rights Watch said that with warlords and drug traffickers still powerful, Afghan President Hamid Karzai and donor nations had failed to meet promises to improve governance, the economy and security under plans to be reviewed at an international meeting on Afghanistan being held this week in Berlin.

"Afghanistan hasn't really met any of the benchmarks" on improving human rights or security, said Sam Zafiri, Asia research director of Human Rights Watch. "Life is so dangerous that many Afghans don't feel safe enough to go to school, get health care, or take goods to market."

Human Rights Watch did not explain the methodology it used to arrive at its casualty numbers.

Its figure of 100 civilians killed by foreign troops is far fewer than the 600 tallied by Afghanistan's Independent Human Rights Commission. That panel also has not explained how it arrived at its figure, and it has released no overall estimate of civilian casualties.