‘We can’t expect warring parties to distribute sweets amidst a fight. What we want is for them to care about civilians’ lives and fight each other out of our villages and towns.’ —Malek Khairuddin, tribal chief in Parliz village, Miyanishin district in Kandahar province.

Center for Civilians in Conflict began operating in Afghanistan in 2003, raising concerns with international forces about the protection of civilians. At the time, civilian protection was not a priority for international forces, and little help was available for civilians who had been harmed. Thankfully this changed, in part attributed to CIVIC’s work.

CIVIC convinced NATO to adopt its first amends policy, providing acknowledgment of harm and financial assistance, for Afghan war victims. We pressed international forces to create a formal method of tracking civilian casualties and to incorporate it into military operations, which they did. We convinced the US Congress to create its first non-monetary assistance program specifically for civilians harmed by US combat operations.

Since the end of NATO’s ISAF mission in December 2014, CIVIC has offered the Afghan government practical solutions to avoid and respond to civilian harm—including training for its forces, a way to track civilian casualties, opportunities to learn from international forces’ experiences, and recommendations to improve post-harm assistance mechanisms. We issued a report, Saving Ourselves: Security Transition and Impact on Civilian Protection, which assessed protection concerns in Baghlan, Kandahar, Kunduz, and Nangarhar after the departure of international forces, and the way in which civilians perceive security forces’ efforts at protection, including how civilians cope with deteriorating security and how they protect themselves.

We have provided technical assistance to the Afghan government in coordination with NATO’s Resolute Support Mission to develop an Afghan Civilian Casualty Mitigation Team (CCMT) to better enable the Afghan government and security forces to track, analyze, and mitigate civilian harm. We have examined efforts at government post-harm assistance programs and offered detailed recommendations to improve them. Furthermore, in 2015, at the invitation of the Afghan government and NATO, we conducted an assessment and provided technical advice to the government on gaps in assessing civilian harm as well as on a national civilian casualty mitigation and prevention policy. CIVIC’s direct engagement in Afghanistan began in 2005 with NATO’s International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). It soon led to changes in policies to track, analyze, and respond to civilian harm including providing condolence payments to those harmed by ISAF operations.

In September 2017, following two years of advocacy by CIVIC and others, the Afghan government adopted a new national civilian casualty prevention policy, but there is still much work to be done. The policy must be implemented effectively across the whole of government, including developing the capacity to effectively investigate and verify allegations of civilian harm and to track, analyze, and learn from incidents.

In 2018, CIVIC continued its work on community engagement in Afghanistan. To date, CIVIC has catalyzed two civil society responses: through national and regional coalitions of Afghan NGOs and through community elders organized and educated to engage armed groups endangering their communities. Both efforts have seen successes but they need continued mentorship to improve their effectiveness and sustainability. Furthermore, CIVIC has now expanded the model from Kandahar and Baghlan to other provinces.

Our commitment to advocating for the rights of civilians in Afghanistan continues. In 2019, CIVIC is continuing to work with the government, the military, and community groups to ensure that civilians are protected in conflict. In addition, CIVIC will continue its advocacy work with NATO to reduce the missions impact on civilian harm in country.

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Image courtesy of Department of Defense