Remarks at NATO Meeting
Sahr Muhammedally, Senior Program Manager MENA and South Asia at CIVIC, spoke at the Operations Planning Committee/ISAF Format Meeting at NATO headquarters on July 3, 2014 (as prepared).
Thank you, Ambassador Evans, for inviting me to participate in these important discussions on lessons learned from Afghanistan on civilian protection and harm mitigation and what needs to be done on inculcating these policies within Afghan security forces. My organization has long had a collaborative relationship with NATO and ISAF on Afghanistan as well as on Libya—which is an example of how civil society and militaries can work together. Over the past decade we have met with senior ISAF and NATO leadership and raised concerns about civilian harm both on an operational and strategic level offering practical recommendations for mitigating civilian harm.
We know that during any armed conflict civilians suffer in myriad ways including the loss of lives, limb, and property. For civilians who have been harmed in an air strike or during a night raid it does not matter that the harm was incidental and within the lawful parameters of the laws of war or a force’s ROEs—their lives are forever changed. Military forces often examine such incidents and determine that the loss was regrettable, but permissible and move on, as international forces did many times during the first half of the conflict in Afghanistan.
However ISAF leadership changed course operationally and undertook serious strategic and tactical measures to minimize harm to civilians and to make amends to those harmed. NATO and ISAF has shown that it can be done and has set an example for armed forces around the world to step up their game to do more to protect civilians and respond to civilian harm.
But this change evolved slowly. Civil society, UNAMA, ICRC, and the Afghan government raised concerns with ISAF about civilian casualties and ISAF leadership began recognizing not only the regrettable loss of human life, but also the detrimental impact it had on the mission. They took action.