According to the latest three-month United Nations report on political and security developments in Afghanistan, NATO-attributable civilian casualties have declined to 30 percent from 33 percent over the last reporting period. That at least shows an attention to NATO’s own findings of a statistical rise in NATO-attributable casualties earlier in the year. So a rise has become a drop, and given the spike in operations this year, that deserves to be underscored. The U.N. attributes it to “an enhanced public information campaign on warning signals given by military convoys, the expedited delivery of additional non-lethal warning methods, and a reiteration of the July 2009 tactical directive by the Commander of the International Security Assistance Force limiting the use of force.”
But this is the situation overall: a decrease of only one percent in civilian casualties over the past three months in Afghanistan, with 395 people dying from conflict-related purposes between April and June. 27,000 people were displaced from Helmand in February alone. Insurgent violence looks like this: The UN reports a 94 percent increase in IED attacks compared to the first four months of 2009. Three suicide attacks per week, mostly in the south. Two complex suicide attacks (meaning suicide tactics are only one component of an assault) per
week month compared to one per week month during this period last year.
Insurgents followed up their threats against the civilian population with, on average, seven assassinations every week, the majority of which were conducted in the south and south-east regions. This constitutes a 45 per cent increase, compared to the same period in 2009. In the south, high-profile assassinations of civil servants, clerics and elders in Kandahar City (including the Deputy Mayor and the head of the Agriculture Cooperative Department) are aimed at establishing control over the urban population.
Seven assassinations per week. Imagine living through that. So much for the Taliban’s anti-civilian casualty 2009 code of conduct.
But the Taliban doesn’t need, from a strategic perspective, to win popular allegiance. (That’s my major disagreement with Max Boot’s response to Andrew Exum, for what it’s worth.) It needs to stymie Gen. McChrystal’s forces from providing security to the Afghan population. If it does that, then it’s in a strong position, and right now, it’s doing that. McChrystal’s task isn’t just to reduce his own proportion of civilian casualties. He could do that, obviously, by not fighting at all. It’s to significantly arrest the violence that threatens civilians, full-stop.
And it’s also important to remember that violence isn’t the only thing that threatens civilians. Look at what the U.N. finds about detention authorities exercised by the Afghan government:
Several contributing countries of the International Security Assistance Force have introduced national caveats to the 2006 International Security Assistance Force standard operations procedure on detention of non-ISAF personnel, which prescribes a 96-hour time limit for detaining persons in the conduct of military operations, after which time ISAF should either release or transfer detainees to the Afghan authorities. It is important in this regard that any prolonged detention by Afghan authorities be accompanied by proper judicial/legal oversight.
As they say at demonstrations: no justice, no peace.
Update, 12:23, June 20: Thanks to reader AC for the correction on my misreading of the week/month time domain on the complex-attack statistic.