UN: Drone kills increase to 16 Afghan civilians in 2012

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KABUL, Afghanistan — The number of U.S. drone strikes in Afghanistan jumped 72 percent in 2012, killing at least 16 civilians in a sharp increase from the previous year, the U.N. said today in a sign of the changing mission as international forces prepare to withdraw combat forces in less than two years.

The U.S. and NATO have long pledged to keep up the fight against al-Qaida and other militants even as they draw down forces. And drones are expected to take on a greater role as the Americans focus more on special forces operations.

Overall, the full-year toll of civilian deaths in 2012 declined compared to the previous year, according to an annual U.N. report. But the toll spiked in the second half of the year, compared to the same period a year earlier.

That spike suggests the country is likely to face continued violence as the Taliban and other militants fight for control following the impending withdrawal of U.S. and allied combat forces.

Conflict-related violence also struck more women and girls last year, with 301 killed and 563 wounded — a 20 percent increase from 2011, the report said.

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