Afghan forces should better avoid civilian casualties
Center for Civilians in Conflict reaction to UN civilian casualty figures
KABUL—The Afghan government must urgently improve its efforts to minimize civilian harm caused by its forces, said the advocacy group Center for Civilians in Conflict, following today’s release of the UN’s latest civilian casualty figures.
The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) reported that the civilian death toll in 2013 was 14 percent higher compared to 2012. Anti-government groups were responsible for 74 percent of civilian casualties, often caused by improvised explosive devices (IEDs). Of concern is a 43 percent increase in civilian harm during ground engagements between the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) and anti-government groups since Afghan forces took the security lead from international forces in 2013.
"Civilian harm caused by Afghan forces needs to be addressed. They are supposed to be the protectors of the Afghan people,” said Sahr Muhammedally, Senior Legal Advisor for the Center for Civilians in Conflict. “Over the past decade, international forces have found ways to reduce civilian harm and respond to casualties when they do occur. Afghan forces need to work with them to learn ways to better save lives and dignify losses.”
In a 2013 report, the Center identified problems with the government’s response to civilian harm, including how it conducts investigations and assists civilians caught in the conflict. Subsequent interviews show that political interference and corruption both at the local and national level influence investigations. This makes it more difficult for the ANSF to understand what occurred and to make changes that will minimize harm in future operations. Ignoring these incidents also leaves many civilians who should receive assistance overlooked.
“When Afghan officials act to prevent civilian harm, they succeed, as shown by their efforts to detect and clear IEDs, which has saved civilian lives,” said Muhammedally. “Similar attention by Afghan officials to prevent civilian harm by their own forces is needed, starting with understanding why harm occurs in order to make changes to prevent future harm.”
The Center expressed concern about UNAMA’s report of a 63 percent (163 incidents) increase in civilian casualties caused by explosive remnants of war, compared to 2012, with 10 out of 163 incidents attributable to international forces (ISAF). In December 2013, ISAF’s commander issued guidance to troop contributing countries to clear fire ranges and explosive remnants of war from their bases.
“We welcome ISAF’s guidance, but this should turn into action. As international forces leave they must be responsible to the Afghan civilians they’ve been living with for years and take all possible steps to clear firing ranges and other explosive remnants of war from their bases,” said Muhammedally.