Searching for some leads…

Posted By: Erica Today, I met up with a man whose been working for a big international non-governmental organization here for the last year and a half. His organization has some overlap with CIVIC's work, and when I mentioned the issue of civilian casualties he said he'd been digging for that information for months and as far as he could tell there was no systematic way of recording or recognizing casualties by any of the US or ISAF troops -- good information to have although not exactly the answers we were hoping for. I heard a similar report from an Afghan-American who is a private contractor involved in getting fuel to US troops. He said he'd be happy to introduce me to some families he knew who had suffered as a result of troop movements so hopefully he'll make good on that promise to me next week.

Signs of Conflict

Posted By: Erica My personal situation seems very secure here but the signs that I am in conflict zone are all around me. When I first arrived, my hosts told me about an incident earlier that morning in which a warlord, Gen. D, who also held a high ranking position in the government, stormed into a family's house with his armed guards and killed the family. Supposedly his case is being referred to the Attorney General, although my Afghan hosts doubt this to be the case. Yesterday, press reports suggested that US and NATO raids in the south of Afghanistan against suspected Taliban resulted in the deaths of several civilians, including women and children. I have set up several meetings and dinners this week with foreign correspondents. I am hoping that these new friends will help me get the tools I need to investigate incidents like this more closely, and also help me to get the CIVIC's message out.

Finally in Kabul

Posted By: Erica I arrived in Kabul yesterday afternoon. An Afghan partner organization here is providing my housing and office space, so they sent out a driver and staff to meet me, help me with my bags and take me to my new home here. In the evening, the Co-Director of the Afghan organization invited about 15 Afghan dignitaries to the house for dinner – all serving in various important positions in the UN offices here, or in the Karzai government. The conversation was all in Pashtu so I did not catch much, aside from a few one-on-one chats in English with my nearest table guests. Most of the conversation seemed focused on jokes and local gossip, or on the development of different construction projects in Kabul and around Afghanistan. One man in the office of Karzai's Chief of Staff pulled aside my co-director to see about getting more materials for two girls' schools he knew about just outside of Kabul. I guess no detail is too small given the needs here. I have a book full of phone number and email addresses of people I should meet up with in Kabul who might have information on civilian casualties, on the US and NATO humanitarian aid funds, or other information relevant to my CIVIC mission. If I am successful in contacting all of them, I will have more substantive updates and copious tea and coffee in the next few days.

On my way…

Posted By: Erica

I leave on Saturday from Cairo to Dubai, the main port of entry to Kabul. Before I leave, I thought I’d send another quick note on some of the work I hope to accomplish on behalf of CIVIC in Afghanistan.

For those of you have been following CIVIC’s work, you already know there have been some amazing successes. Yet there are still many new opportunities for getting help to the thousands of Afghans who have suffered in the recent conflict. In its last appropriations cycle, Congress announced that it would earmark $2 million for the Post Operations Humanitarian Fund (POHRF). Seven NATO countries have also contributed to the fund aimed at helping victims of NATO combat operations in Afghanistan. (Read more about the POHRF program).

One of my main jobs for CIVIC in Afghanistan will be to dig a little deeper into how these funds are distributed and kept track of – how are the civilian losses recognized and investigated? Are funds distributed ad hoc or is there a system to ensure that they are distributed equitably? What kind of training do soldiers receive in recognizing a claim and ensuring that it is reported to the right person?

One huge goal is to make sure that all NATO members are on board with this fund. So far only seven NATO countries have contributed to the POHRF fund. It is important for all NATO countries to get behind this initiative, not only to ensure that the fund meaningfully addresses the civilian costs of NATO operations in Afghanistan, but also to emphasize the moral imperative of treating civilian losses as something more than incidental or “collateral” damage, but as the true costs of war. Where do the other NATO countries stand on this fund? Would they be willing to contribute? Would they be willing to match or come close to matching the United States $2 million pledge?

The answers to some of these questions may be readily available in Afghanistan, but are hard to get a handle on from Washington, DC. For other issues, though, there will be no simple answers. I imagine that it will take a lot of brainstorming, a lot more field information, and a fair amount of cajoling in some cases, to make headway. Just looking at the slew of questions above is a little daunting. However, I am optimistic that with constant access to US and NATO officials in Afghanistan, and with the help of our many local and international partners on the ground, we can get the answers and the solutions that we need.

For now, I am focusing on the immediate task at hand -- avoiding excessive baggage duties and surviving the Afghan airlines’ food service. I will be writing you next from Kabul.

Headed to Afghanistan!

Posted By: Erica Hi all! I will be arriving in Kabul on Feb. 3 to begin my work as CIVIC’s jack-of-all-trades in Afghanistan -- researcher, advocate, on-the-ground point-person, and of course, blogger. You can read more about me and my background here. I think it is most important for this first post to give you a sense of my personal motivation for joining CIVIC and my own personal exposure to the conflict in Afghanistan. I was in Afghanistan in January 2007, doing field research for my law school thesis on private security contractors. Walking down the streets or talking to local Afghans I encountered, I was struck by their warmth and openness – qualities that (quite frankly) an American does not always encounter overseas. This sort of attitude led many of the aid workers, journalists, military and governmental officials that I met to be optimistic that Afghanistan was a place that could be “won.” Yet at the same time, there was a sense of opportunities squandered, that after six years of involvement, the security situation was slowly getting worse and the Afghan civilians who had originally welcomed foreign aid and involvement were starting to change their minds. During the short three weeks I was there it was not hard to see why. My roommate’s translator was mistakenly attacked in his family home by a foreign paramilitary unit – he and his family were booby-trapped to an explosive device, and all his possessions were stolen before the commanding officer found an identity card that established the mistaken identity. On another day, we heard that a mother and her child were accidentally killed in a NATO operation in one of the Northern provinces. Almost every Afghan I met had a story to tell about a loved one lost, homes destroyed, towns abandoned, and opportunities lost – often, though not always, as a direct result of U.S. and NATO operations. As a law student I knew that some of these incidents, perhaps even a majority would have been “permissible” or “justifiable” under the laws of war, but the losses were never justifiable in the eyes of those civilians harmed, and they would never be forgotten. Perhaps with this background, you can understand why I feel so passionately about my upcoming project with CIVIC. CIVIC’s work responds to the moral and strategic imperative of responding to these not-so-hidden costs of war, and it does so by trying to change the fundamental framework of the laws of war that makes these costs permissible. It advocates the standard that warring parties take responsibility for these most tragic costs of war, the type of devastation I witnessed daily in my last visit to Afghanistan. I am particularly excited to be joining CIVIC’s work at this critical time for their initiatives in Afghanistan. In the past few months, the United States and its NATO partners in Afghanistan have been debating how to turn things around in Afghanistan. Several NATO countries involved in Afghanistan have begun publicly questioning the level and the form of their continued involvement. There is a pervasive sense that the old approach is not working, in large part because it was not sensitive enough to the concerns of Afghan communities. This second look at the larger goals in Afghanistan may provide important opportunities for the work of CIVIC and for the Afghan civilians it is intended to benefit. I am in Cairo now, but in my next post, before I leave for Afghanistan, I’ll tell you a bit more about what I hope to do in Afghanistan, and why it is so important for CIVIC’s work to have someone on the ground during this crucial period.

A bit of background

Posted By: Marla B Afghanistan is increasing contentious and bloody battlefields from Kabul to Kandahar call attention war’s devastating impact on civilians. We believe the US and its allies have a chance to do what their military manuals say they should do: win the hearts and minds of the Afghan population with humanity and compassion. Last year we urged the US State Department to champion and NATO to create a fund for war victims. They have done so, but the effort remains under-funded and certainly doesn’t get help to all the Afghans who need it. With civilians increasingly angered by US and NATO troops, it’s time US and NATO forces stepped up to the plate. It’s time they create a program worthy of the losses suffered by civilians caught in the crossfire of this war. Behind the scenes, we’ve been educating the NATO Secretary-General, European countries, the US military and ambassadors alike on appropriate measures for war victims. But we knew we needed an on-the-ground presence to make things happen. We are please to introduce Erica – the newest member of CIVIC’s team. She’ll be based in Afghanistan starting next week. Erica will coordinate CIVIC’s policy recommendations on the ground to make sure the warring parties help the civilians they harm. She will go “into the field” to gather the stories of war victims themselves to make CIVIC’s case for aid back in Washington, in Brussels and in Kabul. We are excited to have Erica working for war victims where it matters most!