Killing civilians - Rizwan Asghar - Tuesday, March 01, 2011

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All the hopes of the Afghan people that after George W Bush’s eight years of disastrous policies President Obama will let sanity prevail in Afghanistan were just a figment of imagination.

Now it is clear that the US is going to meet a Vietnam-like humiliating defeat in Afghanistan. Over the past three weeks a large number of people have been brutally killed in conflict-related security incidents, fuelling a serious political backlash against US counter-insurgency efforts in Afghanistan.

The recent killing of more than 50 people, including many women and children, has created an impression among the Afghan people that foreign troops, accidentally or intentionally, are committed to killing civilians and are creating an environment of permanent fear and intimidation in their country.

This gung-ho attitude, combined with the international community’s haphazard approach to the fight against the Taliban forces has undermined the foreign forces’ capacity to counter the insurgency. The number of civilians killed in Afghanistan since the US-led invasion in 2001 hit record levels in 2010.

According to Afghanistan Rights Monitor, seven civilians were killed every day in the country last year. The US military continues to employ attack helicopters despite, the fact that they are resulting in civilian deaths. Afghan officials and even other coalition troops also accept that when they are conducting their military operations sometimes good people are killed.

Mounting civilian casualties are counterproductive and work against the overall counterinsurgency strategy which is dependent upon protecting the local civilian population. They are undermining the coalition’s attempts to rout the Taliban forces who have become the embodiment of struggle against foreign occupation. The injudicious application of force is inflaming the insurgency and turning people against NATO troops. By killing innocent civilians Americans are putting a big distance between themselves and Afghans. The unintended deaths of civilians in aerial bombings or ground offensives also benefit militants and push the US efforts to win the war miles back.

This careless attitude also is directly works against the winning “hearts and minds” strategy that innocent people are killed. The foreign troops are creating countless of more enemies because every individual killed or injured is most likely closely related to many other families. Similarly when women and children are killed, the survived relatives will most probably become the enemy of NATO troops and their quest for revenge will ultimately take them to the Taliban lines. They consider recruitment into insurgency because a foreign invading army is slaughtering their innocent families.

The people who do not opt to take revenge remain the passive enemies of the foreign troops as the hatred and anger against the foreign troops creates dissatisfaction for the Karzai regime. Civilian deaths also de-legitimise the purpose of the US presence in Afghanistan and create political tensions between the Afghan government and the US. The common people in Afghanistan are thinking that the NATO troops are in Afghanistan to kill the population, not to protect them. The legitimacy of the war diminishes further when evidences of targeting of civilians come to surface like the cases of intentional killing of non-combatants were recently published by Wikileaks.

The deaths of male members in the violence also take a heavy toll on the victims’ families economically. When the families lose their breadwinners, they cannot support themselves anymore. A financial compensation by the US or NATO troops is culturally considered an insult, and in many cases it also does not help the families in a meaningful way. Unwanted civilian deaths in Afghanistan have severely damaged the image of the US as the Taliban and Al Qaeda could easily attribute the war in Afghanistan as one against the Afghan people.


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