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Fatal Neglect in Afghanistan

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    Civilian Casualties in Afghanistan Fatal Neglect By ELIZA SZABO http://groups.yahoo.com/group/libertyunderground/ Almost six years ago, U.S. and allied forces
    Message 1 of 1 , Aug 11, 2007
      Civilian Casualties in Afghanistan
      Fatal Neglect
      By ELIZA SZABO
      http://groups.yahoo.com/group/libertyunderground/


      Almost six years ago, U.S. and allied forces toppled the Taliban
      regime in Afghanistan, paving the way for a pro-Western, interim
      government and the country's first post-Taliban presidential
      elections. Throughout the war, however, there has been little focus --
      whether from government or watchdog groups -- on its toll on the
      civilian population of Afghanistan.

      Very few attempts at compiling annual estimates of insurgency-related
      civilian deaths have been made. The nature of the conflict makes data
      collection difficult and verification even more so. Figures are often
      at least partially based on secondary information -- such as reports
      issued by government officials, the media, or other organizations
      working in Afghanistan -- which can be difficult to corroborate.
      Consequently, the number of civilian deaths in Afghanistan is
      uncertain, despite the recent proliferation of estimates.

      According to what little information is available, U.S. and NATO-led
      forces appear to be responsible for a growing number of civilian
      deaths. Despite its reluctance to quantify the situation, the UN
      publicly reported on June 2, 2007, that its data indicates "the
      number of [civilian] deaths attributed to pro-government
      forcesmarginally exceeds that caused by anti-government forces."10

      U.S. and NATO officials stress that insurgent fighters hide among the
      civilian population and use them as human shields, but the fact
      remains that, whatever the causes, this rising civilian death rate
      undermines the strategic goals of the United States and its allies.
      The growing perception that Western forces are unconcerned with and a
      direct threat to the safety of civilians makes the Afghan population
      less inclined to side with the West against the Taliban. Also,
      Afghans will be less likely to support a government seen as aiding or
      cooperating with Western forces. Hence, the recent statements by
      President Hamid Karzai reprimanding U.S. and NATO forces for their
      apparent disregard for Afghan civilian life. Tensions over the issue
      not only threaten the relationship between the Afghan and coalition
      governments, but among coalition members themselves as they debate an
      appropriate response to the mounting toll.

      At the moment, U.S. and NATO forces seem unable or unwilling to adopt
      tactics less lethal to the civilian population. Expressions of regret
      and reiterations of respect by the military sound increasingly empty
      as U.S and NATO airstrikes continue to attack residential buildings
      believed to contain Taliban insurgents, but that time after time are
      found to also house civilians. An International Security Assistance
      Force (ISAF) spokeswoman was recently quoted as saying, "We are
      looking closely at our air operations, but it would not be something
      we would be looking to change at this point." She cited the limited
      number of troops available as a primary reason for maintaining the
      current role of air power in the conflict.21

      The issue has spurred a number of groups and organizations to begin
      tallying Afghan civilians killed this year. The British Agencies
      Afghanistan Group (BAAG) estimated somewhere between 400 and 500
      civilians were killed between January and the end of May 2007.22 The
      Afghanistan NGO Safety Office (ANSO) reports 452 civilian deaths
      during the same time period, 189 of which were caused by U.S. and
      NATO forces.23 As of June 23, the Associated Press counted 381
      civilian deaths in 2007, 203 of which resulted from U.S. and NATO
      operations.24 The Agency Coordinating Body for Afghan Relief reported
      that pro-government forces were responsible for 230 civilian deaths
      in 2007.25 On July 3, the UN Office for the Coordination of
      Humanitarian Affairs reported Afghanistan Independent Human Rights
      Commission figures for 2007: over 270 civilian deaths caused by
      international military operations out of a total of at least 540.26 A
      July 1 AP report cited a UN count of 593 total civilian deaths in
      2007, 314 of which were caused by international or Afghan military
      action.27 The highest number of civilians killed in U.S. and NATO
      operations this year was reported by Dr. Marc Herold of New Hampshire
      University, who estimated somewhere between 388 and 523 deaths
      between Jan. 1 and June 22, 2007.28

      Research revealed only two estimates of civilian deaths in the first
      three months of the war. Herold's online database counts Afghan
      civilian casualties reported by the media. He estimates 2,567-2,947
      civilians were killed in U.S. aerial bombings between Oct. 7 and Dec.
      10, 2001.29 Carl Conetta, co-director of the Project for Defense
      Alternatives, a project that researches security policy and its
      challenges, estimates anywhere from 1,000 to 1,300 Afghan civilian
      deaths due to U.S. aerial bombardment between Oct. 7, 2001 and Jan.
      10, 2002.30 Conetta attributes what appears to be a minimum of 3,000
      additional civilian deaths to the impact of the conflict on the
      nation's refugee and famine crises.31 The Herold and Conetta studies
      were based exclusively on media reports and are evidently the only
      attempts that have been made to quantify Afghan civilian deaths
      during the outbreak of war in 2001.

      No annual estimates are currently available for the subsequent years
      2002 through 2005, although Human Rights Watch and ANSO are
      reportedly in the process of back-cataloging information collected
      prior to 2006. In the organization's January World Report 2007, Human
      Rights Watch asserts that the number of Afghans killed in insurgency-
      related violence in 2006, estimated in the report as at least 1,000,
      was "twice as many as in 2005 and more than any other year since the
      2001 fall of the Taliban."32 A more detailed report released in April
      estimated at least 899 total insurgency-related civilian deaths, but
      described the figure as conservative.33 The estimate drew from a wide
      range of sources -- the group's own research and interviews, ANSO
      reports, media reports, statements by government officials, NGOs, and
      spokesmen of insurgent groups -- and is arguably the most
      substantiated figure currently available for 2006.34

      Amnesty International's 2006 estimate of 1,000 insurgency-related
      civilian deaths was based on information provided in government
      documents and media reports.35 A BAAG employee gave an offhand
      estimate of about 1,000 as well.36 The International Committee of the
      Red Cross reported 670 civilian deaths in 2006.37 The figure is based
      on information provided by Afghan government officials.38

      A number of other organizations started keeping track of insurgency-
      related civilian deaths in 2007. The Associated Press began compiling
      information collected and reported by staff writers to calculate its
      own tallies. Also, in a May 28, 2007, press briefing, Chief of Human
      Rights at the UN Assistance Mission to Afghanistan Richard Bennett
      announced the development of a civilian casualties database. He
      warned, however, that much of the information available is "second-
      or third-hand" and, thus, unverified.39 UN officials have recently
      avoided issuing public estimates, emphasizing the difficulties
      involved in collecting and corroborating information. A UNAMA
      official explained that UN numbers recently reported by AP were never
      intended for public release, as they represent only a rough estimate.
      The real count, he speculated, is likely to be higher.40

      NATO's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) is also
      tracking civilian deaths, apparently through its medical facilities,
      but a press officer warned that their numbers "might not be entirely
      accurate." ISAF does not release estimates to the public.41 NATO
      accounts of civilians killed in individual incidents are often
      inconsistent with estimates from Afghan officials. For example, a
      NATO spokesman was quoted in a July 2, 2007, New York Times article
      regarding recent airstrikes in Helmand Province as saying, "we want
      to make it clear that we at this point believe the numbers [of
      civilians killed in the incident] are a dozen or less." Afghan
      officials, however, reported that the strikes resulted in 45 civilian
      deaths. Elsewhere in the province, barely three days earlier, Afghan
      officials reported up to 60 civilians killed in fighting and U.S.-led
      airstrikes. A NATO spokesman said that the military could not
      confirm "numbers that large" and issued an often-used statement about
      enemy fighters willingly endangering civilian lives. A U.S.
      government news release acknowledged that some civilians were killed
      in the attacks but did not include an estimated number. 42

      When questioned about whether or not the Department of Defense (DOD)
      maintains any records of Afghan civilian deaths, a DOD official
      stated that they maintain documentation on U.S. military personnel
      only.43 The British Ministry of Defence replied similarly to an
      inquiry under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) 2000, stating
      that it "does not maintain records that would enable a definitive
      number of civilian fatalities to be recorded."44 Though figures
      issued by local Afghan officials are often cited in the media, it is
      unclear whether the Afghan government keeps centralized records of
      civilian casualties, which would enable it to issue annual estimates.

      The difficulties in collecting accurate information on civilian
      casualties in Afghanistan have been compounded by the fact that only
      recently has the issue been given the attention it deserves. The
      first annual estimates that attempt to include all insurgency-related
      civilian deaths came out in 2007 for the previous year, leaving five
      years during which the U.S. and Afghan governments, human rights
      groups and other non-governmental organizations, and the media did
      not provide the information to the public. This year's increased
      efforts to monitor the situation and to review conditions in the past
      may reflect on the fact that more civilians are becoming casualties
      of the war; hopefully, this also shows an increased awareness of the
      issue's serious implications for the war's ultimate outcome. The
      failure of those supporting the Karzai government -- particularly the
      U.S. government and NATO -- to collect or make information on the
      issue public suggests a refusal to acknowledge the negative impacts
      this war is having on Afghanistan, and perhaps, the grave direction
      it's headed.

      Eliza Szabo is a research associate at the Center for Defense
      Information.

      Notes

      1. Based on estimates of civilian casualties caused by PRG and
      AGF, "Afghanistan: Civilians complain about impact of fighting on
      their lives," Integrated Regional Information Networks, UN Office for
      the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, July 3, 2007.

      2. Based on estimates of civilian casualties caused by PGF and AGF
      between December 22, 2006 and May 30, 2007, Nic Lee, ANSO Project
      Director. (2007) Email correspondence with Elise Szabo, June 14,
      2007.

      3. Amnesty International Report 2007, Afghanistan.

      4. January 2007-June 23, 2007, Fisnik Abrashi, AP reporter. (2007)
      Telephone conversation with Elise Szabo, June 25, 2007.

      5. Rough estimate, Abdul Basir, BAAG Project Manager. (2007)
      Telephone conversation with Elise Szabo, June 14, 2007.

      6. Rough estimate, Abdul Basir, BAAG Project Manager. (2007)
      Telephone conversation with Elise Szabo, June 14, 2007.

      7. Based on estimates of civilian casualties caused by PGF and
      AGF, "The Human Cost: The Consequences of Insurgent Attacks in
      Afghanistan," 19, no. 6 (April 2007), Human Rights Watch.

      8. "Afghanistan: three decades of war and no end in sight,"
      International Committee of the Red Cross press briefing, June 12,
      2007.

      9. Associated Press, "Afghan Violence Numbers," Guardian Unlimited,
      July 1, 2007..

      10. Press briefing by Nilab Mabarez, UNAMA National Press Officer and
      Adrian Edwards, Spokesperson for the Special Representative of the UN
      Secretary-General and UN agencies in Afghanistan, July 2, 2007.

      11. Table 2 includes only those groups found reporting a breakdown of
      civilian casualties in 2007.

      12. "Afghanistan: Civilians complain about impact of fighting on
      their lives," Integrated Regional Information Networks, UN Office for
      the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, July 3, 2007.

      13. Ibid.

      14. December 22, 2006 and May 30, 2007, Nic Lee, ANSO Project
      Director. (2007) Email correspondence with Elise Szabo, June 14,
      2007.

      15. Ibid.

      16. "Protecting Afghan Civilians: Statement on the Conduct of
      Military Operations." Agency Coordinating Body for Afghan Relief,
      June 19, 2007.

      17. January 2007-June 23, 2007, Fisnik Abrashi, AP reporter. (2007)
      Telephone conversation with Elise Szabo, June 25, 2007.

      18. Ibid.

      19. Associated Press, "Afghan Violence Numbers," Guardian Unlimited,
      July 1, 2007.

      20. Ibid.

      21. "Use of air power in Afghanistan unlikely to change: NATO," Daily
      Times, June 28, 2007.

      22. Abdul Basir, BAAG Project Manager. (2007) Telephone conversation
      with Elise Szabo, June 14, 2007

      23. Nic Lee, ANSO Project Director. (2007) Email correspondence with
      Elise Szabo, June 14, 2007.

      24. Fisnik Abrashi, AP reporter. (2007) Telephone conversation with
      Elise Szabo, June 25, 2007.

      25. "Protecting Afghan Civilians: Statement on the Conduct of
      Military Operations." Agency Coordinating Body for Afghan Relief,
      June 19, 2007.

      26. "Afghanistan: Civilians complain about impact of fighting on
      their lives," Integrated Regional Information Networks, UN Office for
      the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, July 3, 2007.

      27. "Afghan Violence Numbers," Guardian Unlimited, July 1, 2007.

      28. Marc Herold, e-mail correspondence with Elise Szabo, June 24,
      2007.

      29. Marc Herold, "Appendix 4. Daily Casualty Count of Afghan
      Civilians Killed by U.S. Bombing and Special Forces Attacks, October
      7 until present day."

      30. Carl Conetta, "Strange Victory: A critical appraisal of Operation
      Enduring Freedom and the Afghanistan War," Project on Defense
      Alternatives Research Monograph #6, January 30, 2002.

      31. Ibid.

      32. World Report 2007.

      33. "The Human Cost: The Consequences of Insurgent Attacks in
      Afghanistan," 19, no. 6 (April 2007), Human Rights Watch (26 June
      2007).

      34. Ibid.

      35. Afghanistan Researcher at Amnesty International, telephone
      conversation with Elise Szabo, June 26, 2007.

      36. Abdul Basir, Project Manager of BAAG. (2007) Telephone
      conversation with Elise Szabo, June 14, 2007.

      37. "Afghanistan: three decades of war and no end in sight,"
      International Committee of the Red Cross press briefing, June 12,
      2007.

      38. Carla Haddad, Media Relations Officer at International Committee
      of the Red Cross. (2007) Telephone conversation with Elise Szabo, 20
      June

      39. "Afghanistan: Press briefing by Aleem Siddique, UNAMA
      Spokesperson's Office along with Richard Bennet, Chief UNAMA Human
      Rights 28 May 2007," Relief Web, June 26, 2007.

      40. Aleem Siddique, Senior Public information Officer at UN
      Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, Telephone conversation with Elise
      Szabo, July 10, 2007.

      41. Lt. Col. Billings, Press Officer at International Security
      Assistance Force headquarters, e-mail correspondence with Elise
      Szabo, June 14, 2007.

      42. "Afghan Civilians Said Killed in Clash," Washington Post, June
      30, 2007.

      43. Janice Ramseur, Public Affairs Officer at the Office of the
      Assistant Secretary of Defense American Forces Information Services,
      e-mail correspondence with Elise Szabo, July 7, 2007.

      44. Claire Greenaway, responding on behalf of information holders at
      the British Ministry of Defense (2007), e-mail response to request
      for information by Elise Szabo under the Freedom of Information Act
      2000, June 27, 2007.

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