KABUL: The number of civilians killed in the Afghan war in the first four months of this year dropped by 21 percent over the same period in 2011, the United Nations said Wednesday.
A total of 579 civilians died and 1,219 were wounded, with Taliban-led insurgents responsible for the vast majority of the deaths, Jan Kubis, the UN special representative for Afghanistan, told a news conference.
Kubis said 79 percent of the casualties were caused by anti-government forces, nine percent by pro-government forces -- including NATO's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) -- while the rest were unattributed.
"The prevention of civilian casualties... is among the top priorities of UNAMA," Kubis said, referring to the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan.
"We give proposals addressed to all the parties, we urge them to take measures, and we sometimes see results and I'm very happy to see results."
For the past five years the number of civilians killed in the war had risen steadily, reaching a record of 3,021 in 2011.
That year, insurgents caused 77 percent of the deaths while pro-government forces were responsible for killing 410 civilians -- 14 percent of the total, the United Nations said in its annual report.
The record loss of life was blamed mainly on changes in the insurgents' tactics, which saw an increased use of improvised bombs and deadlier suicide attacks.
The latest figures show that NATO's share of the blame has fallen by five percent -- at least in the first four months of the year, a point welcomed by Kubis.
But civilian deaths in NATO air strikes have drawn fierce criticism from President Hamid Karzai, who argues that they turn ordinary Afghans against his Western-backed government.
Karzai summoned ISAF commander General John Allen and US ambassador Ryan Crocker to the presidential palace earlier this month after a number of civilians were killed in NATO air strikes.
NATO and US forces in Afghanistan admitted in a joint statement after the meeting that civilians had died in two separate strikes.
The statement gave no details of how many civilians died in each of those incidents but local officials put the total at more than 20, including women and children.
"The president will be assured of our commitment to take any and all appropriate actions to minimise the likelihood of similar occurrences in the future," the statement said.
On Sunday, however, Afghan officials said another NATO air strike killed a family of eight, including six children, when it hit their home in eastern Afghanistan. ISAF said it was investigating the claim.
NATO has some 130,000 troops serving in Afghanistan, but they are due to withdraw by the end of 2014 and hand responsibility for security to Afghan forces. AGENCIES