The United Nations says the number of civilians killed in war-related violence in Afghanistan reached its highest level last year since the conflict began in 2001.
In a report released Wednesday, U.N. investigators said civilian deaths caused by Taliban and other insurgents soared by 40 percent from 2008, but the number killed by coalition forces fell by 28 percent.
The U.N. says 2,412 Afghan civilians were killed in 2009, two-thirds of them by militants opposed to the government. Most of those killed died from suicide bombings, homemade bombs and execution-style killings. Coalition airstrikes accounted for 60 percent of the deaths caused by coalition troops.
War-related civilian casualties are a sensitive subject in Afghanistan, and political leaders have demanded an end to airstrikes and night raids by foreign troops. U.S. commanders have responded by sharply reducing the number of airstrikes and making protecting civilians a priority. But officials say Taliban militants continue to use civilians as human shields.
In violence Wednesday, officials said four Afghan soldiers and one civilian were killed by a bomb they were trying to defuse in Khost province. NATO forces said two U.S. soldiers were killed by an improvised bomb in the east, and one French soldier was killed and two others injured in a bomb attack northeast of Kabul.
The French soldier's death is the third in a week. France has lost a total of 39 troops in Afghanistan since 2001.