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Afghanistan civilian casualties up 23% in first half of 2013, U.N. says

Updated at 8:36 a.m. Eastern

KABUL, Afghanistan The U.N. mission in Afghanistan said the number of civilian casualties had spiked in the first half of 2013 as insurgents used the NATO drawdown to try to retake lost territory.

Georgette Gagnon, a human rights chief at the mission, said the organization's mid-year report found a 23 percent increase in the number of civilian dead and wounded because of the ceaseless fighting in a conflict that has lasted nearly 12 years.

She said the United Nations Mission in Afghanistan documented 1,319 civilian dead and 2,533 wounded from January to June.

The numbers have been reported in the past but UNAMA on Wednesday provided a breakdown in the causes. It attributed 74 percent of the deaths to the insurgency.

The International Security Assistance Force-Afghanistan (ISAF) issued a response Wednesday, blaming "nearly 90 percent of all civilian casualties so far this year" on the insurgency -- specifically on the Taliban.

"By continuing the indiscriminate use of improvised explosive device attacks despite the huge toll on Afghan men, women and children, the Taliban proves it does not take their pledge to protect innocent civilians seriously," said the U.S.-led military coalition.

"The context of the report is important," noted CBS News foreign affairs analyst Pamela Falk, "because most of the allied international forces will soon withdraw and handover full responsibility for security to the Afghan forces."

"The U.N. view is that, overall, the security situation has improved," Falk added. After his visit to Afghanistan earlier this month, however, Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson acknowledged that there were still parts of the country "where it has not improved, particularly out in the countryside and in the south."

The Taliban immediately dismissed the U.N. report as propaganda. In a written statement released to media organizations the Taliban defended its tactics and suggested that both the U.N. and ISAF had counted Afghan government officials, police, intelligence workers, and others as civilians, whereas the militants consider them fair targets.

In spite of regular civilian casualties caused by improvised bombs and suicide attacks, the Taliban statement claimed it had not targeted civilians in "a single incident."

"The incidents claimed by us are all the losses of our enemy and calling them civilians is UNAMA's own judgment which is used for making the report more acceptable for Americans," read the statement sent to CBS News' Kabul bureau.

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