By Jay Holmes
The United Nations News Center released a report on February 8, 2014, stating that civilian casualties in Afghanistan rose by 14% last year. It also indicates that 2014 was the worst year since 2009 in terms of the number of women and children killed or injured as a result of war-related violence. A full copy of the report can be viewed at the United Nations web page at United Nations News Centre – Civilian Casualties in Afghanistan Up 14 Percent Last Year, Says New UN Report.
Those who have been reading the news from Afghanistan will not be surprised by the sad fact that 2,959 Afghani civilians were killed last year as a result of the military conflicts in that country. Anyone who listened to and believed Afghan president Hamid Karzai’s frequent loud ranting would assume that the U.S. and Allied forces opposing the Taliban and Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan caused the majority of those civilian casualties. Likewise, many observers of the war in Afghanistan have always assumed that the U.S. and other international forces were responsible for the majority of civilian war casualties in Afghanistan. This has never been close to the truth.
The recent U.N. report indicates that only 3% of the civilian casualties in Afghanistan in 2013 were caused by the U.S. and Allied forces in the anti-Taliban/anti-Al-Qaeda coalition. The figure is even lower this year than in previous years because the Afghan national military has taken over much of the front line fighting—there are fewer international forces engaged in direct combat. However, even when the U.S. and its allies were conducting the majority of combat operations, they never came close to being responsible for the majority of the civilian casualties.
Since the U.S. first became directly involved in combat in Afghanistan in 2001, the Taliban and Al-Qaeda have routinely targeted civilians whenever those civilians were reluctant to support them. This Taliban/Al-Qaeda policy of murdering civilians, sometimes entire villages of civilians at one time, should come as no surprise to students of Afghanistan. Neither the Taliban nor Al-Qaeda hesitated to murder civilians prior to the U.S.’s entry into Afghanistan. That did not change when the U.S. arrived, and it likely will remain the same after the U.S. leaves Afghanistan.
From the point of view of the Pentagon, the U.S. military leaders in Afghanistan, and the image-conscious Congress and White House, the ideal number of civilian casualties in Afghanistan would have been zero. The U.S. has nothing to gain and much to lose by killing civilians. On rare occasions, a few individuals have disobeyed standing orders and have murdered civilians in Afghanistan, and those individuals have been arrested, tried, and convicted and they are in prison.
If you are the parent of a child killed by U.S. forces in Afghanistan, then the fact that your child’s death was a rare event will be of little or no comfort to you. Afghanis who have lost any innocent family members due to action by the U.S. or Allied forces will likely remain inconsolable and might well not forgive the U.S. for their loss. That is one reason why the Pentagon has gone to great pains to minimize civilian casualties in Afghanistan. However, some of the families that have suffered the loss of innocent family members in the war in Afghanistan will be able to realize that the U.S. would not be in Afghanistan at all were it not for the Taliban and their Al-Qaeda allies.
While the U.N. report may have little impact on public opinion about Afghanistan, it will have even less impact on Hamid Karzai and his band of thieves, whom we so generously refer to as the “Afghan government.” Hamid is not confused about the casualties in Afghanistan. He has simply found it convenient to pretend that the U.S. is responsible for all civilian casualties and all other calamities in his country.
Karzai has always been transparent to anyone who cared to look and was willing to see the obvious truth. He needs the U.S. to remain alive and in power. He also needs the Taliban and Al-Qaeda to keep the conflict alive because in the mayhem that the war has brought to Afghanistan, the Karzai family has done quite well for itself. Karzai has always worked hard to keep local community leaders from forming close ties to the U.S. and its allies. The more that the U.S. and Allied forces are able to deal directly with local community leaders, the less power the Karzai business empire has, and the more superfluous it becomes. The Afghan people are tired of the rampant corruption and abuse that the Karzai gang inflicts on them. To distract them from his own venality, Karzai cynically blames the U.S. and Allied forces for dead civilians and attempts to paint himself as someone who protects Afghanis from the U.S.
If there is a silver lining to the dark cloud of Afghanistan, it is the fact that the United Nations did something that they have only rarely done since 1945, when the late great Eleanor Roosevelt managed to convince the U.N. delegates to include basic human rights in the U.N. charter. They investigated a difficult situation in a war torn area, they contacted and listened to locals, and they managed to tell the truth about what they found.
That might seem trivial, but I see it as a sign of hope that the U.N. might become less willing to be used as a free propaganda service by the world’s despots and terrorists. I cannot predict what future changes might occur in the U.N., but the fact that its staff compiled a relevant and fair report, combined with the fact that U.N. leadership did not bury the report, gives me hope for the U.N. and for the civilians in Afghanistan. At least on this occasion, truth conquered corruption, and the U.N. gave the civilians of Afghanistan a voice.