Civilian Casualties Undermining Afghanistan War Effort, Says Report

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President Obama’s arrival in the Oval Office hasn’t stopped at least one controversial Bush-era counterterrorism tactic: aerial attacks on suspected Taliban militants by the missile-armed Predator drones that soar over the Hindu Kush day and night. If anything, such attacks have only increased in frequency. (Read David Case’s Mother Jones‘ piece here.) On Monday, a Predator destroyed a house in Pakistan’s Northwest Frontier Province, reportedly killing at least 31 Taliban fighters who had gathered there.

The costs and benefits of deploying death from above are complex. Surely some of these guys are deserving of whatever comes their way. Problem is, many of them may not be. And besides, killing Islamist foot soldiers has comparatively little impact on the overall war effort, whereas the propaganda value for the Taliban and Al Qaeda is immeasurable. Civilian casualties are unavoidable in a war fought by remote control from 10,000 feet–and they are the perfect instrument for radicalizing populations that US and NATO forces will need to win over if they hope to meet with any success in stemming the insurgency.A new report (.pdf) from the Campaign for Innocent Victims in Conflict, released Tuesday, points out that there has been a 12 percent drop in Afghan support for international forces since 2007 and a 15 percent decline since 2006. The underlying cause is as universal as it is obvious: people don’t like to think of themselves as potential collateral damage. And when their family members and neighbors are killed in error, they expect an apology and compensation for their loss. All too often this does not occur.

From the report:

The international coalition in Afghanistan is losing public support, one fallen civilian at a time. Twenty billion US dollars in military expenditures each month and billions more in support operations and humanitarian aid still leaves the many civilians harmed by international troops with nothing. Since the initial US invasion in 2001, the lack of a clear, coordinated strategy to address civilian losses has been a leading source of anger and resentment toward military forces…

Billions of dollars are spent to win, keep and rebuild Afghan communities, but it only takes seeing one family member maltreated and ignored by military forces for a community to turn against the international effort. Victim assistance is equally critical on humanitarian grounds. In 2007 and 2008, an estimated 3,641 civilians were killed by parties to the conflict in Afghanistan. For every civilian killed, as many or more are injured, lose their homes or livelihoods. For countless Afghan families living on the margins, the loss of a breadwinner, high medical or funeral costs, or the financial burden of supporting disabled or dependent relatives can make even basic survival difficult. For each family struggling to recover from losses, there are multiplying ripple effects on Afghanistan’s continuing development and stabilization.


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