A report by the US National Bureau of Economic Research found a strong link between civilian casualties caused by NATO forces in Afghanistan and the number of insurgent attacks on NATO forces in the areas where the casualties had been caused in the six weeks after them (1) – (2). Clearly revenge for civilian deaths caused by NATO forces is one of the main motives for those fighting them. (for more on civilian deaths, torture and detention without trial as motives for those fighting NATO forces
On NATO and ISAF figures NATO forces have killed a lower proportion of those civilians killed than Taliban forces have, though NATO’s own figures can’t be taken as particularly neutral or unbiased. Investigations by Human Rights Watch, the Afghan government and others have found that US military investigations of incidents in which US forces have killed civilians in Afghanistan have repeatedly been “seriously flawed” and deliberately hidden the true numbers of civilian deaths. The US military reports on the Azizabad airstrikes in 2008 and on the Farah airstrikes in May 2009 were equally farcical distortions of the truth, despite the latter having taken place under Obama’s new strategy. Kunduz in September 2009 was the first instance of NATO admitting to causing civilian deaths in a major incident – though this may have been because German forces were responsible, allowing McChrystal to admit it without upsetting his own troops or US public opinion – and as airst Recent leaks revealing civilian casualty incidents covered up by NATO forces underline this.
Experts also point out that all figures on civilian deaths, even those compiled by the UN, the Afghan government and the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission (which is actually appointed by Afghan President Hamid Karzai) are likely to be far lower than the true figure due to these bodies lacking enough resources and people to investigate all civilian casualties across such a large and mountainous country, coupled with the dangers of kidnappings or becoming collateral damage (caused by both sides) making reporting in many areas almost impossible (3) - (4).
Civilian deaths caused by NATO forces fell under McChrystal (on NATO figures) as a proportion of total civilian deaths, though the total number of civilian deaths has continued to rise for most of his period as supreme NATO commander for Afghanistan.
General Petraeus, replacing McChrystal a few weeks ago, has also said he will review rules of engagement brought in by McChrystal which had required troops to definitely identify any target before firing on them. These rules are unpopular with the troops who see them as “too restrictive”, but the NBER report suggests they saved not only civilian lives but also those of NATO soldiers by reducing revenge attacks on them (5).
It’s also worth noting that McChrystal and Petraeus strategy has involved a focus on “counter-insurgency” using Afghan forces led by American “advisers”, with the “trigger pullers” being Afghan. This suggests falls in statistics civilian casualties attributed to NATO forces may have been achieved by assigning many US-led night raid squads of Afghans as being carried out by “unknown” or “Afghan government” forces rather than NATO ones (6) – (17).
This echoes the methods used in Iraq where native “special police commandoes” and other “counter-insurgency” units were trained by some of the same people who trained the notorious US-trained death and torture squads in El Salvador. Many Iraqis say members of their families have been tortured, summarily shot without explanation, or “disappeared” just as Salvadorans were by these US trained forces (18) – (19). Iraqis, like Afghans, will probably continue to suffer at the hands of these “counter terrorist” units given the 50,000 US troops that will be staying in Iraq as “advisers” despite the US “withdrawal”.
Another motive for Afghans joining the insurgency is that they or their relatives, friends or neighbours have been tortured or held without trial or explanation by NATO or Afghan government forces. For instance an excerpt from the recently leaked NATO documents on Afghanistan published in the Times newspaper discusses an Afghan who wanted to defect from Taleban forces to government ones. When asked why he had joined the Taleban in the first place he replied that he had been a timber merchant and had been stopped at a NATO checkpoint and then held without explanation for 7 days. He added that one senior Taleban commander had first joined the Taleban after his house was destroyed by “coalition forces” (presumably meaning ISAF/NATO and Afghan government forces) (20).
(1) = NBER Working Paper No. 16152 Issued in July 2010 , Luke N. Condra, Joseph H. Felter, Radha K. Iyengar, Jacob N. Shapiro (2010) ‘The Effect of Civilian Casualties in Afghanistan and Iraq’,
(2) = BBC News 24 July 2010 ‘US military curbs 'reduce' Afghan attacks in some areas’,http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-south-asia-10746832
(3) = The Afghanistan Conflict Monitor of the Simon Fraser University in Australia, ‘Civilian Casualties’, http://www.afghanconflictmonitor.org/civilian.html
(4) = Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission, Commissioners, Dr. Sima Samar, http://www.aihrc.org.af/English/Eng_pages/Commissioners/Dr_samar.htm
(5) = BBC News 04 July 2010 ‘US Gen Petraeus urges unity to tackle Afghanistan war’,http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/10497749 ‘Gen Petraeus has also pledged to look at the application of the current rules of engagement. These are designed to reduce civilian casualties but some US troops believe they put them at too great a risk’ (last two sentences before bolded sub-heading ‘Welcome Aboard’)
(6) = Observer 28 Feb 2010 ‘Nato draws up payout tariffs for Afghan civilian deaths’, http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/feb/28/coalition-payouts-afghan-civilian-casualties
(7) = Open Society Institute ‘Strangers at the Door – Night raids by international forces lose hearts and minds in Afghanistan’, http://www.soros.org/initiatives/cep/articles_publications/publications/afghan-night-raids-20100222/a-afghan-night-raids-20100222.pdf
(8) = Times 31 Dec 2009 ‘Western troops accused of executing 10 Afghan civilians, including children’, http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/afghanistan/article6971638.ece
(9) = AP 21 Jan 2010 ‘AP Exclusive: US to Tighten Rules on Afghan Raids’, http://abcnews.go.com/International/wirestory?id=9620447&page=1
(10) = Times 25 Feb 2010 ‘Assault force killed family by mistake in raid, claims Afghan father’, http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/afghanistan/article7040216.ece
(11) = Times 26 Feb 2010 ‘Hunt down the spy behind deaths of our children, say Afghan night raid survivors’, http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/afghanistan/article7041941.ece
(12) = AP 05 Mar 2010 ‘NATO details Afghan night raid policy’, http://www.sfexaminer.com/world/nato-troops-must-bring-afghan-troops-with-them-on-night-raids-a-new-directive-says-86553107.html
(13) = Times 08 Mar 2010 ‘Karzai offers families ‘blood money’ for sons killed in raid’, http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/afghanistan/article7052982.ece
(14) = Times 13 Mar 2010 ‘Nato ‘covered up’ botched night raid in Afghanistan that killed five’, http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/afghanistan/article7060395.ece
(15) = Times 14 Mar 2010 ‘Afghan family killed as special forces defy night raid ban’, http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/afghanistan/article7061069.ece
(16) = Scotsman 17 Mar 2010 ‘Nato special forces 'reined in' after spate of civilian deaths’, http://news.scotsman.com/afghanistan/Nato-special-forces-39reined-in39.6157285.jp
(17) = Guardian 22 Nov 2009 ‘US pours millions into anti-Taliban militias in Afghanistan’, http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/nov/22/us-anti-taliban-militias-afghanistan
(18) = New York Times magazines 01 May 2005 ‘The Way of the Commandos’,http://www.nytimes.com/2005/05/01/magazine/01ARMY.html?_r=1
(19) The Nation 22 June 2009 ‘Iraq's New Death Squad’,http://www.thenation.com/article/iraqs-new-death-squad
(20)= Times 28 Jul 2010 ‘‘He said they were scared of the Taleban leaders’http://www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/news/world/asia/afghanistan/article2662453.ece?lightbox=false