Violence in Afghanistan fell in 2012, but more Afghan troops and police who now shoulder most of the combat were killed, according to statistics compiled by The Associated Press.
At the same time, insider killings by uniformed Afghans against their foreign allies rose dramatically, eroding confidence between the two sides at a crucial turning point in the war and when NATO troops and Afghan counterparts are in more intimate contact.
"The overall situation is improving," said a NATO spokesman, U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Lester T. Carroll. He singled out Afghan special forces as "surgically removing insurgent leaders from the battle space."
Gen. Mohammad Zahir Azimi, spokesman for the Afghan Ministry of Defence, said Afghan forces were now charged with 80 per cent of security missions and were less equipped to face the most lethal weapon of the militants -- roadside bombs.
"Our forces are out there in the battlefields and combat areas more than at any other time in the past," he said, citing reasons for the spike in casualties.
U.S. troop deaths, overall NATO fatalities and Afghan civilian deaths all dropped as insurgent attacks fell off in their traditional strongholds in the country's south and east. However, insurgent activity was up in the north and west, where the Taliban and other groups have been less active in the past, and overall levels of violence were higher than before a U.S. troop surge more than two years ago.
U.S. troop deaths declined overall from 404 last year to 295 as of Saturday. The Defence Department says 1,701 U.S. troops have been killed in action in Afghanistan since the U.S. invasion in 2001 until Dec. 26. Of those, 338 died from non-hostile causes. Some 18,154 were wounded.
A total of 394 foreign troops, including the Americans, were killed in 2012, down from 543 in 2011. The British, with the second-largest military presence, had 43 killed -- the second-highest toll among countries with forces in Afghanistan, by AP's count.
The AP keeps daily tallies of casualties and violent incidents across Afghanistan based on reports from NATO and Afghan officials. Most cannot be independently verified, and other incidents may never come to light. The statistics sometimes vary from official counts because of time lags, different criteria and other reasons.
Deaths from so-called insider attacks -- Afghan police and troops killing foreign allies -- surged to 61 in 45 attacks last year compared with 2011, when 35 coalition troops were killed in 21 attacks.
The number, provided by the NATO command, does not include the Dec. 24 killing of an American civilian adviser by a female member of the Afghan police because the investigation is ongoing.
The focus of NATO's mission has largely veered from the battlefield to training the Afghans ahead of a pullout of most troops by 2014. The U.S plans to maintain a residual force, the size of which is now being determined.
A NATO report that tracks violence in the country showed a rise this year compared with the period before the surge of U.S. troops into the country. But the levels were down from last year and a peak in the summer of 2010. Kabul and the country's second-largest city, Kandahar, saw a considerable drop in lethal attacks, but districts in Kandahar province remain among the most restive in Afghanistan.
More than 1,050 Afghan troops died this year, substantially higher than last year, although the ministry could not provide the exact 2011 death toll.
Nearly 1,400 police died in the 10 months from March 21 to the end of the year, compared with about the same number for the 12 months beginning March 21, 2011. The Afghan government follows a calendar year starting March 21.
NATO says Afghan security forces have grown from 132,000 in March 2011 to 333,000 this month.
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