UN alarmed over escalating violence in Afghanistan

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Afghanistan has seen an "alarming" near-doubling of incidents involving homemade bombs in a year, said a UN report Saturday, as the US asserted progress was being made in the war-torn country.

United Nations secretary-general Ban Ki-moon also said "security incidents" have risen significantly in Afghanistan as US-led forces make a push in the south and militant activities have grown in southeast and eastern regions.

"The rise in incidents involving improvised-explosive devices constitutes an alarming trend, with the first four months of 2010 recording a 94 percent increase compared to the same period in 2009," the report to the UN security council said.

The report added suicide attacks involving more complex planning have doubled from last year to roughly two per month, which "demonstrates a growing capability of the local terrorist networks linked to Al-Qaeda".

Assassinations of civilians by insurgents aiming to take control of urban populations have also increased 45 percent from last year, to a rate of seven a week, mostly taking place in Afghanistan's south and southeast, it said.

The report came at the end of a week in which US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the Afghan government and its international backers were making progress stabilising the country.

"We think that we're making progress, we know how hard it is," Clinton told a press conference in Washington Friday, saying that "the Afghan military and police are improving".

"There's a lot of positive indicators," she added, citing advances in education, health, government capacity, agricultural output and economic growth.

The Pentagon on Thursday said US-led forces were making headway against the Taliban, but it was "overshadowed" by violence in southern provinces and what it called an overly gloomy portrayal of the war shaped by media coverage.

The rising death toll in Afghanistan is unwelcome news for Washington and its allies, whose electorates are increasingly frustrated by casualties in a seemingly endless and faraway war.

A June 6 Washington Post-ABC News poll found that 39 percent of Americans said the US was losing the war in Afghanistan, and that 53 percent said the war was not worth fighting.

France announced that one of its soldiers serving with NATO forces in eastern Afghanistan died in hospital Friday from wounds suffered when his armoured vehicle convoy came under artillery fire from insurgents.

He became the 274th foreign soldier killed in Afghanistan this year, according to an AFP tally based on figures kept by the independent icasualties.org website.

Two Afghan policemen were killed and four other people injured Saturday when a remote controlled bomb hit a police vehicle as it passed a local market in the central province of Uruzgan, governor Juma Gul Himat told AFP.

NATO troops and Afghan security forces have for weeks been engaged in a surge of counter-insurgency operations around the southern city of Kandahar, aimed at re-establishing central government authority there.

US President Barack Obama has ordered a surge that will see troop numbers, currently estimated at 142,000, peak at 150,000 by August before an intended drawdown in 2011.

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