Friday, July 06, 2007

Hearts and Minds

After more than five years of increasingly intense warfare, the conflict in Afghanistan reached a grim milestone in the first half of this year: U.S. troops and their NATO allies killed more civilians than insurgents did, according to several independent tallies.

The upsurge in deaths at the hands of Western forces has been driven by Taliban tactics as well as by actions of the American military and its allies.

But the growing toll is causing widespread disillusionment among the Afghan people, eroding support for the government of President Hamid Karzai and exacerbating political rifts among NATO allies about the nature and goals of the mission in Afghanistan.

More than 500 Afghan civilians have been reported killed this year, and the rate has dramatically increased in the last month.

In some instances, it was difficult to determine whether the dead were combatants or noncombatants. But in many other cases, there was no doubt that the person killed was a bystander to war. ...

By late June, the United Nations mission in Afghanistan, working with local rights groups, had counted 314 civilian deaths at the hands of Western-led forces and 279 people killed by the Taliban and other militants. But that figure did not include at least 45 civilian deaths reported by local officials last weekend in Helmand province's Gereshk district.

Separate counts by the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission and the Associated Press differed slightly, but also indicated that more civilians were killed by Western troops than by militants during the first half of 2007.

On June 23, in response to the deaths of more than 100 noncombatants in a single week that were blamed on Western artillery or airstrikes in southern Afghanistan, President Karzai unleashed an angry call for caution by U.S. and NATO forces.

"Afghan life is not cheap, and it should not be treated as such," the Afghan president told reporters in Kabul.

Aides said Karzai believed that his language, the sharpest to date on the subject, was the only way to get the attention of Western policymakers after repeated appeals had gone unanswered.

Neither NATO nor U.S. forces keep a tally of civilian deaths, but Thomas said the military did not dispute the figures cited by Karzai. All sides, however, acknowledge that counting casualties is an inexact science.

Because Taliban fighters do not wear military uniforms, they can be as difficult to identify in death as in life. Much of the fighting takes place in remote, rugged areas that are difficult for independent investigators to reach.


Post a Comment

<< Home