View Full Version : Civilian Deaths Undermind Allies' War on Taliban

12-08-2005, 07:14 AM
7 Dec. Associated Press - Poll: Most in Afghanistan Say Life Better (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/12/07/AR2005120702039.html).

More than three-fourths of the people living in Afghanistan say living conditions, security from crime and freedom of expression have improved from the days when they were living under Taliban rule, an ABC News poll says.

Almost nine in 10 - 87 percent - say the U.S.-led overthrow of the Taliban in 2001 was a good thing for the people of Afghanistan. And three-fourths of Afghans say their country is headed in the right direction...

04-19-2007, 12:27 AM
Telegraph opinion piece (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/opinion/main.jhtml?xml=/opinion/2007/04/08/do0804.xml) by Conservative MP Adam Holloway.

In Helmand I learned that while the Afghans want us there, it is so that we provide precisely that reconstruction and security. We the British talk a good plan in terms of development and governance.

The only problem is that we are not delivering our "comprehensive approach". The Department for International Development's contribution has been woeful.

"They sit in their office in the British base and write reports for London," said one local.

Only a few months ago the Taliban were a remote force, but now, as one person put it, "they are not in the mountains - they are in the houses." Not a mile from the British base fly white Taliban flags.

A friend of mine narrowly missed abduction recently just the other side of the river from Lash Kar Gar, the provincial capital. Some families are said to be sending a son to work with the Taliban - to protect the poppy fields, and for $10 a day. Our Royal Engineers have built checkpoints on the edges of Lash Kar Gar, but the Afghan army are said to be too afraid to man them at night - so security, even in this centre of an "Afghan Development Zone", remains an aspiration. Other checkpoints merely provide cover from view for Afghan police to rob road users. The Afghan government's department of health is reported to ask Taliban permission before carrying out child inoculations in most rural areas: this is "peace through reality".


Of course my knowledge is based on imperfect information, but I think we are contributing to the insurgency. While Afghans have cheered our troops following engagements with the Taliban, there seemed to be a widespread feeling amongst the people I spoke to in Lash Kar Gar that we are killing a lot of people through bombing, that there are many thousands of displaced people from the north, that people in the north are angry with the British, and that the Taliban are the only people who can protect poppy crops. In a sense it does not matter whether or not this is true. What matters is that they have come to think this, and that the Taliban exploit this and so are winning the information war.

Most families in Helmand are in some way involved in opium production. While the US wants mass eradication programmes, the Royal Marines believe that eradication fuels the insurgency, and that unless you have some sort of alternative lifestyle for people you should not destroy poppy. The UK might be the "lead" nation on drugs, yet we continue to help with eradication and recently supplied - via the Royal Logistics Corps base in Kandahar - 80 tractors for the purpose. So we are effectively throwing resources at a policy that results in increased violence against our troops. One official told me that we had to do some eradication, otherwise the US would steam in and do a lot more - so our eradication is a means of managing the US, not a means of managing insurgency.


We are in Afghanistan for the right reasons. Ministers rightly point to the many good things that are happening beyond the military activity, and you don't change a society like this in seven days. Our troops are keeping their side of the bargain and performing with great heroism, buying time for development and governance initiatives to take hold. But the Armed Forces are being let down by the absence of these things.

A major reason that Iraq has not been a success is because, as a coalition, we failed to get to grips with the most basic need of the Iraqi people: security. Our Government needs to wake up to the real possibility of another strategic failure in Afghanistan if we do not turn words into action very, very soon. We can still do something about it, but there's not much time. If we do not, it will not only be the Afghan people who will be in greater danger: Britain will be as well.

05-15-2007, 03:26 AM
ZERKOH, Afghanistan, May 9 — Scores of civilian deaths over the past months from heavy American and allied reliance on airstrikes to battle Taliban insurgents are threatening popular support for the Afghan government and creating severe strains within the NATO alliance.

Afghan, American and other foreign officials say they worry about the political toll the civilian deaths are exacting on President Hamid Karzai, who last week issued another harsh condemnation of the American and NATO tactics, and even of the entire international effort here.....


05-15-2007, 08:04 PM
“We know that the Taliban hide in villages. The job that we have not done as well is making it clear to European publics that it’s the Taliban who are exploiting the civilians."

One senior NATO official said that “without air, we’d need hundreds of thousands of troops” in the country.

The above two citations are from the story, the first from "a senior American official." The curious thing to me is neither official seems to care much about what the Afghan villagers think.

Steve Blair
05-15-2007, 08:22 PM
Of course one of the joys of the media is that you never know what might have been said that wasn't considered worthy of inclusion in the story....:wry:

That said, I'm sure that NATO relies too much on fire support. Why? Because it's the way they're trained to operate. Techniques don't always change, even when they should. That's one of the great "Catch 22s" of COIN.

Tom Odom
05-15-2007, 08:26 PM
“We know that the Taliban hide in villages. The job that we have not done as well is making it clear to European publics that it’s the Taliban who are exploiting the civilians."

One senior NATO official said that “without air, we’d need hundreds of thousands of troops” in the country.

Quote one is irrrelevant because the European publics are not the the objective; it is the "civilians" who know for sure that the Taliban do not have airpower. That the Taliban are "exploiting" them hardly compares to high explosive.

Quote two is equally irrelevant. Continued bombing with resultant civilian deaths will elminate any need for "hundreds of thousands of troops" by losing the war.



06-24-2007, 11:34 AM
24 June Washington Post - Karzai Decries Civilian Deaths (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/06/23/AR2007062300355.html) by Griff Witte.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai chastised U.S. and NATO-led troops Saturday for their "careless operations" and accused them of killing more than 90 civilians in the past 10 days, as fresh reports emerged of more noncombatant deaths.

Using some of his strongest language yet against the foreign forces that occupy his country, Karzai asserted that "Afghan life is not cheap and it should not be treated as such."

"We do not want any more military operations without coordinating them with the Afghan government," a visibly angry Karzai said at a news conference in Kabul, the capital. "From now onwards, they have to work the way we ask them to work in here."

It was unclear late Saturday whether Karzai's statement indicated that he plans to formally restrict the operations of the 32,000 NATO-led troops and 21,000 U.S.-led troops who patrol Afghanistan...

Mark O'Neill
06-24-2007, 12:05 PM
Our (Australian) Defence Minister had this to say today:

Defence Minister Brendan Nelson has rung his Dutch counterpart to express his concern after Afghan President Hamid Karzai accused NATO troops of carelessly killing scores of Afghan civilians.


"Given the Australian government's concerns regarding civilian casualties, ... Dr Nelson has spoken with his counterpart in The Netherlands, Eimert Van Middelkoop to discuss the operation and express his concerns."

ADF chief Angus Houston has also spoken with his Dutch counterpart, General Dick Berlijn, to discuss the operation generally including civilian casualties, defence said.

ADF vice-chief Ken Gillespie also has been in direct contact with the Dutch national commander in Afghanistan, and has told the Australian Reconstruction Task Force commander in Uruzgan to ensure that his views are expressed to the commander in Uruzgan province.

More at the link:


Tom Odom
06-24-2007, 12:38 PM
And this would be exactly why I wrote this piece (http://smallwarsjournal.com/documents/swjmag/v8/odom-swjvol8-excerpt.pdf) for SWJ.

This really requires a fundamental shift in thinking and conventional conflict thinking is deeply entrenched in Western militaries. NATO forces are no different. I am beginning to believe that the role of political advisors must be filled by those with a law enforcement and law enforcement policy background.



06-24-2007, 12:53 PM
Hi Tom, if you get a chance watch a news clip of him being interviewed. He flatly states "That you can not enforce your Western ideas of police and military actions on us. we want help with training local police drawn from local communities. And help building our own Army." I would post a link but I saw it on TV last night and can not remember which station but it is out there and he was Pissed!!!

08-17-2007, 12:47 PM
USIP, 16 Aug 07: Hearts and Minds: Afghan Opinion on the Taliban, the Government and the International Forces (http://www.usip.org/pubs/usipeace_briefings/2007/0816_afghan_opinion.html)

Since the election of new leaders and the establishment of a new constitution, the government of Afghanistan has been trying to prove its legitimacy and ability to foster stability, security, and the rule of law. The Taliban resurgence is playing a major role in public perception of the government’s competence and the role of the international forces. Understanding current trends in public opinion can aid in tailoring the international intervention to ensure that prior progress is not lost and that elements corroding the strength of the state are diminished.

Opinion polls, focus group results, and interviews in Afghanistan were discussed by a panel of experts at a meeting of the Institute’s Afghanistan Working Group on July 18, 2007. Panelists included Craig Charney , principal, Charney Opinion Research; and Tom Periello, consultant, International Center for Transitional Justice and fellow, the Century Foundation. J Alexander Thier, senior rule of law advisor, U.S. Institute of Peace, served as moderator. Following is a summary of the views expressed by the speakers and the audience during the meeting. It does not necessarily represent the views of the U.S. Institute of Peace, which does not take policy positions.....

Rex Brynen
08-27-2008, 04:12 AM
U.S. Killed 90, Including 60 Children, in Afghan Village, U.N. Finds (http://www.nytimes.com/2008/08/27/world/asia/27herat.html)

New York Times
Published: August 26, 2008

KABUL, Afghanistan — A United Nations human rights team has found “convincing evidence” that 90 civilians — among them 60 children — were killed in airstrikes on a village in western Afghanistan on Friday, according to the United Nations mission in Kabul.

If the assertion proves to be correct, this would almost certainly be the deadliest case of civilian casualties caused by any United States military operation in Afghanistan since 2001.

The United Nations statement adds pressure to the United States military, which maintains that 25 militants and 5 civilians were killed in the airstrikes, but has ordered an investigation after Afghan officials reported the higher civilian death toll.

The United Nations team visited the scene and interviewed survivors and local officials and elders, getting a name, age and gender of each person reported killed. The team reported that 15 people had been wounded in the airstrikes.

Rex Brynen
09-07-2008, 11:58 PM
Divergent Accounts of Afghan Strike Raise Tension (http://www.nytimes.com/2008/09/08/world/asia/08afghan.html?_r=1&hp&oref=slogin)
New York Times
Published: September 7, 2008

AZIZABAD, Afghanistan — To the villagers here, there is no doubt what happened in an American airstrike on Aug. 22: more than 90 civilians, the majority of them women and children, were killed. The Afghan government, human rights and intelligence officials, independent witnesses and a United Nations investigation back up their account, pointing to dozens of freshly dug graves, lists of the dead, and cellphone videos and other footage showing bodies of women and children laid out in the village mosque.

Cellphone footage seen by this reporter shows at least 11 dead children, some with blast and concussion injuries, among some 30 to 40 bodies laid out in the village mosque. Ten days after the airstrikes, villagers dug up the last victim from the rubble, a baby just a few months old. Their shock and grief is still palpable.

09-08-2008, 02:47 PM
HRW, 8 Sep 08: Troops in Contact: Airstrikes and Civilian Deaths in Afghanistan (http://hrw.org/reports/2008/afghanistan0908/afghanistan0908webwcover.pdf)

In the past three years, the armed conflict in Afghanistan has intensified, with daily fighting between the Taliban and other anti-government insurgents against Afghan government forces and its international military supporters. The US, which operates in Afghanistan through its counter-insurgency forces in Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) and as part of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), has increasingly relied on airpower in counter-insurgency and counter-terrorism operations. The combination of light ground forces and overwhelming airpower has become the dominant doctrine of war for the US in Afghanistan. The result has been large numbers of civilian casualties, controversy over the continued use of airpower in Afghanistan, and intense criticism of US and NATO forces by Afghan political leaders and the general public.

As a result of OEF and ISAF airstrikes in 2006, 116 Afghan civilians were killed in 13 bombings. In 2007, Afghan civilian deaths were nearly three times higher: 321 Afghan civilians were killed in 22 bombings, while hundreds more were injured. In 2007, more Afghan civilians were killed by airstrikes than by US and NATO ground fire. In the first seven months of 2008, the latest period for which data is available, at least 119 Afghan civilians were killed in 12 airstrikes.

These figures do not include the airstrike on August 22, 2008 in the village of Azizabad, where many civilians were killed in airstrikes in support of an OEF operation. Although the total number of dead was disputed at the time of writing, the political fallout was significant. The Afghan government ordered its ministries of foreign affairs and defense to review the presence of foreign troops and regulate their presence with a status of forces agreement, negotiate a possible end to airstrikes on civilian targets, uncoordinated house searches, and illegal detention of Afghan civilians.....
Complete 45-page report at the link.

09-08-2008, 08:49 PM
Just goes to show that we remain borderline retarded (un-PC word now, I know) when it comes to waging media battles.

If we screwed up, admit it. If we didn't, declassify the evidence.

Don't use a 15-6 by some anon SF officer as a crutch. This is stupidity. You'd think that after a week we could get our story together.

Ken White
09-08-2008, 09:19 PM
Just goes to show that we remain borderline retarded (un-PC word now, I know) when it comes to waging media battles.

If we screwed up, admit it. If we didn't declassify the evidence.

Don't use a 15-6 by some anon SF officer as a crutch. This is stupidity. You'd think that after a week we could get our story together.I guess that means my "#*@%!^& criminally stupid" is worse, huh?

Good post, Niel.

SOCOM drives another nail in the 'accuracy in reporting' and 'trust' coffins...

09-08-2008, 09:57 PM
This is a serious question. I am not trying to be a smart aleck.

Is there some kind of organizational, bureaucratic or sociological reason we have not paid much attention to Karzai's strong complaints about these things over the past years. I just don't get it.

09-08-2008, 10:06 PM
Arrogance IMHO. A failure of both political and military will to acknowledge we are there to pursue our national interest(s) in a country with a long history of resisting foriegn involvement. We pay them, we give them guns, we keep Karzai alive....so we can do what we like.

Now if we gave the Afghans the decision whether to launch an airstrike that would be different. Even better if it was Afghans who did the deed.

All from the comfort of a faraway armchair.


Tom Odom
09-08-2008, 11:06 PM
I have written on here and briefed that the measure that has to be made is a careful consideration of whether we are willing to kill friendlies to get at an enemy. If as we seek to win the support of a given population, we chose to use targeting considerations that treat civilian casualties as collateral damage, we are shooting ourselves in the colective foot. At a certain stage, indemnity payments become self-defeating if not absolutely self-destructive. And if we cannot get our collective rationale and explanation together when we do decide to launch an airstrike, we add incompetent to the already established label of uncaring.


Ken White
09-09-2008, 01:43 AM
albeit only very slightly...:wry:

I think davidbfpo is mostly correct on the arrogance angle but it's also, IMO more complex than just that. He, Karzai, has to say something (which doesn't mean he isn't sincere) and we have to ignore him sometimes (which doesn't mean we're evil).

Tom Odom is absolutley correct in what he says but as I suspect he knows, when you're out there on the ground and our own troops are getting clobbered, civilization and what's best can go by the wayside. Joe and Tommy will take care of each other to Ahmed's detriment just as Ahmed and Mohkdar will take care of Ali to the detriment of Joe and Tommy.

Way of the world, I'm afraid.

09-10-2008, 04:37 AM
Kip over at abu muqawama (http://abumuqawama.blogspot.com) is dead on.


Money Quote:

So why do we look like a deer in the frieking headlights...again?

Well, the first step is acknowledging you have a problem. It's a vital step, and everyone has acknowledged the problem. But it can't be the only step--and we have fallen far, far off the wagon.

Our efforts to inform the Afghan populace, to respond to events, and to execute influence operations within the enemy's decision cycle require the kind of organizational innovation akin to these task forces that so successfully eliminate our enemies with great violence. It requires organizing the best, brightest, and most capable people, developing SOPs, and developing "actionable" information initiatives, just as surely as we would respond to "actionable" intelligence. How many uniformed spokesmen are speaking in Pashto and Dari to the Afghan press? Why don't we have a press release released at the same time we have a bomb released? Where is the footage from the scene on iReporter, YouTube and a half-dozen other places (vetted just as rapidly to protect OPSEC)? Where is the reporting on Taliban intimidation, moral corruption, and civilian casualties? How many Pajwok or Tolo reporters embed into Afghan Army or Police units? Where is our effort to influence the mosque? Where are the Afghan National Security Force DVDs to counter the Taliban-produced propaganda? How much effort and responses is expended on an ISAF newspaper generally used to wrap kebabs in lieu of tackling these far more difficult issues? How are we coordinating tailored messages for each of the ISAF contributor nations? What's our influence strategy into FATA, Baluchistan, and Waziristan?

Kip doesn't have all the answers, but he is certain that if we don't make developing these answers our most urgent priority, we may rapidly reach a tipping point with the Afghan population, regardless of our best (and approaching meaningless) efforts to ensure we don't kill civilians.

It just pains me to watch this.

Ken White
09-10-2008, 01:14 PM
Afghanistan is not Iraq and FATA, Baluchistan, and Waziristan are not Syria, Iran or Saudi Arabia. I think Kip forgets that...

I bet Dave McKiernan is far more pained than you are.

Rex Brynen
10-08-2008, 03:42 AM
U.S. Inquiry Is Said to Conclude 30 Civilians Died in Afghan Raid (http://www.nytimes.com/2008/10/08/washington/08inquiry.html?_r=1&hp&oref=slogin)

New York Times
Published: October 7, 2008

WASHINGTON — An investigation by the military has concluded that American airstrikes on Aug. 22 in a village in western Afghanistan killed far more civilians than American commanders there have acknowledged, according to two American military officials.

The military investigator’s report found that more than 30 civilians — not 5 to 7 as the military has long insisted — died in the airstrikes against a suspected Taliban compound in Azizabad.

12-23-2008, 03:52 PM
The Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) issues two reports on the same day:

"From Hope to Fear: An Afghan Perspective on Operations of Pro-Government Forces in Afghanistan"


"Insurgent Abuses against Afghan Civilians"

Which one do MSM focus on (at least in initial coverage)?

<sarcasm>I'm shocked.... </sarcasm>

William F. Owen
12-23-2008, 04:40 PM
This report has caused a great deal of discussion in Israel, for very obvious reasons.

12-23-2008, 09:15 PM
....at least ONE outlet mentions the report now - at the very bottom of the story.

....A second commission report -- also released Tuesday -- claims there have also been a litany of Taliban abuses. They include kidnappings and executions against Afghan civilians.

"Attacks against government civilian officials and institutions have increasingly chipped away at the government's ability to provide services to hundreds and thousands of people," the report on the insurgency says.

"It is often the poorest people of Afghanistan who are being threatened, kidnapped, and executed because they work on government or international construction or development projects."

Let's see, two sides to a conflict (50:50 involvement), and only 83 words out of a total of 730 of the article deals with criticism of what most would consider the bad guys (11:89 coverage) - fair and balanced?

EDIT ADD: On the other hand, here's something (http://www.ottawacitizen.com/Canada+effort+protect+civilians+exemplary+Thompson/1108975/story.html) showing a bit more of both sides....

12-23-2008, 11:37 PM
It is not news that bad people do bad things, it is news when good people do bad things - a modification of the more famous statement -"When a dog bites a man, that is not news, because it happens so often. But if a man bites a dog, that is news." John B. Bogart, New York Sun editor.

William F. Owen
12-24-2008, 04:49 AM
It is not news that bad people do bad things, it is news when good people do bad things -

Wallah! Makes it all a bit of a challenge for the Information Ops folks.

Old Eagle
12-24-2008, 03:42 PM
in theater.

Forget what western MSM does with these, although it does have an impact.

What's killing us is the fact that the president of Afghanistan has bought into the bias. Screaming/threatening about coalition killing innocent civilians, but giving a bye to the bad guys. Tell me how this ends...

12-24-2008, 03:45 PM
What's killing us is the fact that the president of Afghanistan has bought into the bias. Screaming/threatening about coalition killing innocent civilians, but giving a bye to the bad guys. Tell me how this ends...
is electioneering?

12-24-2008, 06:52 PM
Wallah! Makes it all a bit of a challenge for the Information Ops folks.

You bring up a great point. Much of what was in the article had to do with collateral civilian deaths due to indirect fires. Under current doctrine IO is part of Fires and Effects, the guys making the targeting decisions. You would think that they would have input into these decisions, or, at the very least, be preparing the damage control PR from the start. I realize they are not allowed to "spin" the story (like say, claiming there are no civilian casualties) but they can be as truthful about it as possible. Primacy in getting out the correct information can be a strong weapon in the fight for public opinion.

12-25-2008, 12:30 PM
I realize they are not allowed to "spin" the story (like say, claiming there are no civilian casualties) but they can be as truthful about it as possible. Primacy in getting out the correct information can be a strong weapon in the fight for public opinion.

All we have to do is make sure journalists report THAT information too, and present it in its proper context - hey, I can dream, can't I? :(