Reliable Security Information


Civilian Airstrikes in Afghanistan - A Different View


We hear a lot about the alleged effect of civilian casualties as a result of airstrikes on Pakistani and Afghani thinking, but are popular assumptions really accurate?

Last March, for example, the Pakistani press reported a survey that painted a rather different picture of the impact of Predator strikes than what we hear in our press: http://www.thenews.com.pk/daily_detail.asp?id=165781


Now we now have some information about Afghanistan that is quite interesting. Consider the discussion at a Brookings event on
5 October. The speaker is Jeremy Shapiro who "served on a civilian assessment team in Afghanistan [that contributed] to U.S. commander Gen.Stanley McChrystal's strategic review process."


As you can see in the transcript at the hyperlink below, his thoughts about the impact of civilian casualties on Afghans are intriguing. He points out that while "civilian [casualties] as an issue clearly resonates very strongly here and in Europe. It's not clear that Afghans actually see this as a key issue."

He goes on to say that the "civilian casualties (inaudible) certainly been highlighted by the Afghan government, but in part I think that's because it serves to demonstrate their independence from the coalition and gives them leverage with the coalition. Local officials, in my experience, tend actually not to be too concerned with [civilian casualties] to a degree, which is quite surprising to me."

He observes that when Gen McChrystal went to apologize for the Kunduz incident [the German requested airstrike on abandoned ISAF fuel tanker] he found that the locals "weren't angry about the civilian casualties. They were angry that there hadn't been more attacks like this."

In citing the remarks of an Afghan governor, Shapiro goes on to say that what the Afghan

"[M]eant was that control means that you are a provider of security and that you'll do what is necessary to establish control, and the very attention that the coalition pays to civilian casualties actually creates the impression among many Afghans that they in fact are not interested in establishing control and not interested in being the provider of security."

I find all this fascinating, especially coming as it does so soon after Phil Meilinger's article in the July issue of Armed Forces Journal that referenced a study that concluded that 97% of civilian deaths in Iraq were the result of ground combat, not airstrikes.
http://www.armedforcesjournal.com/2009/07/4079006/ .

This dovetails with last year's Human Rights Watch study http://www.hrw.org/sites/default/files/reports/afghanistan0908webwcover_0.pd
f that concluded that "civilian casualties rarely occur during planned airstrikes on suspected Taliban targets...High civilian loss of life during airstrikes has almost always occurred during the fluid, rapid-response strikes, often carried out in support of ground troops after they came under insurgent attack."

The full transcript of the Brookings event is available at http://www.brookings.edu/~/media/Files/events/2009/1005_afghanistan_pakistan/20091005_afghanistan_pakistan.pdf)


As you can see in the transcript at the hyperlink below, his thoughts about the impact of civilian casualties on Afghans are intriguing. He points out that while "civilian [casualties] as an issue clearly resonates very strongly here and in Europe. It's not clear that Afghans actually see this as a key issue."


He goes on to say that the "civilian casualties (inaudible) certainly been highlighted by the Afghan government, but in part I think that's because it serves to demonstrate their independence from the coalition and gives them leverage with the coalition. Local officials, in my experience, tend actually not to be too concerned with [civilian casualties] to a degree, which is quite surprising to me."


He observes that when Gen McChrystal went to apologize for the Kunduz incident [the German requested airstrike on abandoned ISAF fuel tanker] he found that the locals "weren't angry about the civilian casualties. They were angry that there hadn't been more attacks like this."


In citing the remarks of an Afghan governor, Shapiro goes on to say that what the Afghan "meant was that control means that you are a provider of security and that you'll do what is necessary to establish control, and the very attention that the coalition pays to civilian casualties actually creates the impression among many Afghans that they in fact are not interested in establishing control and not interested in being the provider of security."


I find all this fascinating, especially coming as it does so soon after Phil Meilinger's article in the July issue of Armed Forces Journal that referenced a study that concluded that 97% of civilian deaths in Iraq were the result of ground combat, not airstrikes.
http://www.armedforcesjournal.com/2009/07/4079006/ .


This dovetails with last year's Human Rights Watch study http://www.hrw.org/sites/default/files/reports/afghanistan0908webwcover_0.pd
f that concluded that "civilian casualties rarely occur during planned airstrikes on suspected Taliban targets...High civilian loss of life during airstrikes has almost always occurred during the fluid, rapid-response strikes, often carried out in support of ground troops after they came under insurgent attack."


The full transcript of the Brookings event is available at http://www.brookings.edu/~/media/Files/events/2009/1005_afghanistan_pakistan/20091005_afghanistan_pakistan.pdf)

This article was written by an expert who cannot publish under his or her own name, but whose ideas we believe are worth debating. Those who wish to comment on this policy - or who would like to submit pieces for publication - should contact the editor, Sonni Efron, at sonni@globalsecurity.org.

Leave a comment

 
Subscribe to SitRep:
GlobalSecurity.org SitRep RSS Feed GlobalSecurity.org SitRep ATOM Feed