KABUL, Afghanistan -- Last year was the deadliest on record for Afghan civilians with 3,021 killed, a rise of 8 percent from the year before as insurgents ratchet up violence with roadside bombs and suicide attacks, the United Nations said Saturday.
Taliban-affiliated militants were responsible for more than three-quarters of the civilian deaths in 2011, the fifth year in a row in which the death toll went up, the U.N. said.
The figures were a grim testament to the violence the Taliban and allied Islamist militants can still unleash in Afghanistan, even as NATO begins to map out its plan for international troops to draw down and give Afghan security forces the main responsibility for fighting insurgents by the end of 2014.
The number of civilians killed in suicide attacks jumped dramatically to 450, an 80 percent increase over the previous year as militants set off increasingly powerful bombs in public places.
Insurgent-planted roadside bombs remained the single biggest killer of civilians last year. The homemade explosives, which can be triggered by a footstep or a vehicle, killed 967 people - nearly a third of the total. The United Nations decried the insurgents for using the indiscriminate weapons, which the report compared to laying anti-personnel land mines among the general population.
"Afghan children, women and men continue to be killed in this war in ever-increasing numbers," said Jan Kubis, the U.N. Secretary-General's special representative to Afghanistan. "For much too long, Afghan civilians have paid the highest price of war."
The 130,000-strong coalition force led by the U.S. says it has been hitting the Taliban hard, seizing their one-time strongholds while expanding and training the Afghan army and police to take over primary responsibility for waging the decade-old war. Still, insurgent attacks are killing more and more civilians, according to a detailed annual U.N. report.
"As 2011 unfolded, ordinary Afghan people experienced growing intrusion into and disruption of their daily lives by the armed conflict in their country," the report said.
Last year was the deadliest year for Afghan civilians recorded by the U.N. since it started keeping a detailed civilian casualties five years ago. The number of deaths was 8 percent higher than the previous year and roughly double the number from 2007.
Overall, 3,021 civilians died in violence related to the war and 4,507 were wounded. Of the deaths, the UN attributed 77 percent to insurgent attacks and 14 percent to international and Afghan troops. Nine percent of cases were classified as unknown.
The number of civilian deaths caused by insurgents was up 14 percent over 2010, the U.N. said.
"It is extremely worrying to see civilian casualties continuing to rise year after year,' said Navi Pillay, the U.N.'s High Commissioner for Human Rights. "Behind these numbers is real suffering and loss for families in Afghanistan."
Last year was also the second-deadliest year of the decade-long war for international forces in Afghanistan, with at least 544 NATO troops killed. The coalition has been in Afghanistan since the aftermath of the 2001 American-backed intervention to topple the Taliban, which followed the hard-line Islamist regime's refusal to hand over al-Qaida terrorist chief Osama bin Laden, who sponsored the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the U.S.
While the total number of civilian deaths caused by international and Afghan forces backing President Hamid Karzai's government dropped by 4 percent from the previous year, the number of civilians killed by air strikes targeting insurgents rose to 187 in 2011, accounting for nearly half the deaths attributed to coalition and Afghan troops.
The number of civilians killed during controversial, coalition-led night raids on homes dropped to 63 in 2011, down 22 percent from the previous year, the U.N. said.
Night raids by U.S. and Afghan special operations teams are a source of resentment among many Afghans, though the NATO force says they have led to the death or capture of dozens of Taliban figures. Karzai has demanded an end to night raids.
The U.N. also noted a shift in where the violence affecting civilians was centered in Afghanistan. In 2010, the provinces with the highest numbers of civilian casualties were the southern Taliban strongholds of Helmand and Kandahar, where an increased number of U.S. troops pushed to take back territory from insurgents.
While those two provinces still had the most deaths in 2011, their numbers dropped, while civilian deaths went sharply up in southeastern provinces including Khost and Paktika, and the eastern provinces of Kunar and Nangarhar. All those areas lie along Afghanistan volatile border with Pakistan, where many of the Taliban's leaders and the al-Qaida-allied Haqqani network are believed to be based.
Most of the fighting has shifted to those areas over the past year.
Insurgents also intensified an assassination campaign against people associated with the Afghan government. The U.N. report documented 495 targeted killings in 2011, including provincial and district government officials, peace council members and pro-government tribal elders. Assassinations were up 3 percent from the previous year and up 160 percent from 2009.
Among the highest profile assassination victims last year was former President Burhanuddin Rabbani, head of the high peace council charged with seeking talks with the Taliban. He was killed by a suicide bomber claiming to carry a message from the insurgents.