In 2008, the NATO International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan established the Civilian Casualty Tracking Cell (CCTC) to collect data on civilian casualties. Civilian casualty tracking is part of an emerging best practice of collecting and analyzing data on civilian harm, to help warring parties respond to and learn tactical lessons from that harm. ISAF’s CCTC was the first large-scale effort of its kind undertaken by a warring party.

In Civilian Harm Tracking: Analysis of ISAF Efforts in Afghanistan the Center examines how ISAF’s civilian casualty mitigation programs developed and operated, and identifies important lessons for future efforts.

The study is based on interviews with ISAF, NATO, and U.S. military personnel, as well as civilian analysts and representatives of international organizations and non-governmental organizations.


  • Civilian casualty tracking must be backed by sincere attention to mitigating and reducing civilian harm, not solely to collecting data.
  • Civilian casualty tracking does not require tremendous resources but does require sustained attention and assertion of value.
  • Data collection itself does not have to be complicated, but reporting must be standardized and the data reported robust enough for deep analysis.
  • To be most useful, a tracking mechanism should be in place before a mission begins.


“The intent of the CCTC was two-fold: to be first with the truth, noting that being first with the truth didn’t necessarily mean reporting first; and… not to let ISAF become totally reactionary. We didn’t always want to end up responding, and at that point we were. We were left behind.” —ISAF Commander General David McKiernan (2008-2009).

“While every [geographic] area may only have one or two civilian casualty incidents of a certain type, it’s only when data was aggregated across the whole country that you [could] make a point to the commanders that the [tactic in question] is an issue.” —Former senior ISAF leadership (name withheld).

“Down the chain of command, it’s not the troops sustaining fire don’t understand the importance of avoiding civilians, but that the concept of jotting information down may not be their highest priority.” —Colonel Mark Gray, MBE Royal Marines, former ISAF Chief of Current Operations.

“In the end, we have to understand we’re never going to get to the same number [referring to different UNAMA and ISAF casualty numbers]… What’s important is how and why civilians are being killed an injured so we can ensure that civilian protection is being improved. That’s where we— both ISAF and the groups working with ISAF— were moving. It just takes time.” —Marc Garlasco, former Head of UNAMA Protection of Civilians Unit.

“[Tracking civilian harm] should be started right rather than need to evolve… It’s too important to depend on an evolutionary process. Accounting for [civilian casualty] mitigation needs to happen from the beginning, before deployment, right from the day we join the military.” —Former ISAF commander (name withheld).


thumbnail of ISAF_Civilian_Harm_Tracking

ISAF Civilian Harm Tracking Efforts in Afghanistan: Summary & Recommendations 

Examining Civilian Harm Tracking and Casualty Recording in Afghanistan 



Notes to editors:

Center for Civilians in Conflict (CIVIC)’s mission is to improve protection for civilians caught in conflicts around the world. We call on and advise international organizations, governments, militaries, and armed non-state actors to adopt and implement policies to prevent civilian harm. When civilians are harmed we advocate for the provision of amends and post-harm assistance. We bring the voices of civilians themselves to those making decisions affecting their lives.

For more information, contact Christopher Allbritton at +1 (917) 310-4785 or


Related Content
Filter by
Post Page
Policy Brief Afghanistan Somalia Publication Civilian Harm Tracking Military Press Release Research Protection Recommendations Civilians NATO Ukraine Syria US
Sort by