Civilians have suffered immensely during nearly three decades of armed conflict in Afghanistan. And there seems to be little hope of a respite; according to the UN, 2012 was one the deadliest years for civilians on record since October 2001. In June, the UN also reported that the civilian death toll in the first half of 2013 increased nearly 25% over the same period last year. Disturbingly, children are making up a greater percentage of casualties: 21% of all civilians killed or wounded in the first half of 2013 were children -- a 30% increase compared to 2012.
In July 2013, the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) officially took full responsibility for the security and protection of the Afghan population from NATO’s International Security and Assistance Force (ISAF). As the ANSF take the lead for security and combat operations across the country, the imperative for the Afghan authorities to reform the ways it addresses civilian harm, especially that caused by Afghan forces, takes on a critical new importance.
When the Center began working on Afghanistan in 2003, civilian protection was not a priority for international forces and little help was available for civilians harmed. Now, a multitude of efforts exist to address civilian harm—many strongly advocated for by the Center, including NATO’s adoption of a policy for compensation to civilians in Afghanistan and the United States’ Afghan Civilian Assistance Program (ACAP), the first US funded program to aid civilians by US combat operations.
Now that Afghans are in control, our focus at the Center is ensuring the Afghan government has the ability to protect and help its own population. This will remain our priority through the official withdrawal of international troops set for the end of 2014. Specifically, our main goals for the coming months include pressing the Afghan government to reform its existing victim’s assistance programs to make sure they are more responsive to civilian needs; pressing for better civilian harm mitigation training at a tactical level for Afghan troops, including from their NATO trainers; and working with the Afghan security forces and their partners, including NATO and the US, to set up a formal system to prevent, track, and respond to civilian harm they cause on the battlefield.