• About CIVIC

    CIVIC is a Washington-based non-profit organization that believes the civilians injured and the families of those killed should be recognized and helped by the warring parties involved.

    On this blog, you will find stories from our travels around the world as we meet with civilians and military, aid organizations and government in our quest to get war victims the help they need.

  • Countries

  • Contributors

    Sarah, Executive Director

    Marla B, Managing Director

    Kristele, Field Director

    Liz, Chief Communications Officer

    Trevor, CIVIC's fellow based in Afghanistan

    Chris, CIVIC's fellow based in Pakistan

    Jon, CIVIC's US military consultant

  • Media Content

Afghanistan’s war victims: Zalmay’s story

Trevor Keck is CIVIC’s field fellow, based in Kabul, Afghanistan.  He is assessing Afghan National Security Force preparedness to protect civilians after NATO and its allies withdraw.

Here’s the story of Zalmay, a boy living in a very small village on the border with Pakistan.  Assadullah – the boy’s uncle – told me his story at a local radio station in Jalalabad, where we met.

Just after international forces invaded Afghanistan in 2001, the Taliban came to Zalmay’s house while retreating back over the border into Pakistan. They killed Zalmay’s father and wounded his mother so badly she was permanently disabled.  Zalmay was only two years old.

Assadullah doesn’t know why the Taliban targeted Zalmay’s family. He wonders if  it might be that Zalmay’s father had been a senior military commander in the communist regime that preceded the Taliban.  When the Taliban came to power, Zalmay’s father no longer had a place in the military and turned to woodcutting to provide for his family.

Without a breadwinner, Assadullah began taking care of Zalmay, his mother, and his two sisters, which he has done for more than ten years.  Now a teenager, Assadullah is training Zalmay in his shop to work as a car mechanic.  Zalmay is now the only male in his immediate family, which means that he must work to support his mother and two sisters instead of going to school like a typical teenager.  His destiny is that of manual labor.

Taking care of Zalmay’s family as well as his own is a financial burden for Assadullah, who hopes that one day Zalmay will be able to open up his own shop and be self – sufficient.  Financial assistance from the Afghan government would be extremely helpful for both Assadullah’s and Zalmay’s families, which are entirely dependent on Assadullah to survive.

Assadullah also said he wanted the international community and the Afghan government to “make good on their promises.”  For Assadullah, that means peace, economic opportunities and good governance.  According to him, only the politically connected get help from the Afghan government; it doesn’t work for everyone.

“We are so tired of war…I am 35 years old and I haven’t seen a good day in my life,” Assadullah told me with a look of despair.

Voices from the Field: Who are Afghanistan’s War Victims?

Trevor Keck is CIVIC’s field fellow, based in Kabul, Afghanistan.  He is assessing Afghan National Security Force preparedness to protect civilians after NATO and its allies withdraw.

A few weeks ago, I wrote briefly about my trip to Jalalabad, a city in eastern Afghanistan, where I researched civilian casualties.  I spoke to numerous Afghan officials and more than a dozen civilians harmed by warring parties in Afghanistan.

The next posts are what I heard from some victims of the conflict in Afghanistan.  I’ll start today with Tahir’s story as told to me by his father.

Tahir and his family live in a very rural part of Nangarhar province, situated in eastern Afghanistan between Kabul and the Pakistani border.  Tahir is eleven years old and, until recently, loved going to school and playing cricket with his friends.

About two weeks before I spoke to him, Tahir set out to visit his father – a farmer – who was tending to his fields at the time.  He never made it there. On his way, Tahir stepped on a roadside bomb, presumably set by the Taliban or another armed group.  The blast knocked him out and even now, Tahir barely remembers what happened. After the explosion, local villagers who saw the incident rushed him to the hospital in Jalalabad, where I interviewed him.

When I met him, he was in a lot of pain and heavily medicated, suffering wounds on his right arm, his legs and his stomach.  Thankfully, the doctor at the hospital told me he was stable and the physical wounds would heal.  What kind of mental trauma Tahir will suffer remains to be seen.

Tahir was in a lot of pain so he didn’t talk much.  But his father told me that his son doesn’t like the hospital and “just wants to go home.”

Remembering Chris Hondros

It’s hard to believe it’s been a year since our friend and steadfast CIVIC supporter Chris Hondros was killed while on assignment in Misrata, Libya.  Chris was a Pulitzer Prize nominated photojournalist who covered most of the worlds major conflicts beginning in the late 90s.  Chris covered conflicts, but his real passion was capturing the people affected by them.  Chris’ images of civilians struggling to survive amidst bullets and bombs gave us all an immediate understanding of the gravity of war. You’ve likely seen his images on the front page of flagship newspapers such as the New York Times, Washington Post and numerous others.

But what you may not have known was that Chris’ work has been the visual representation of what we do here at CIVIC since 2005.  He gave us his images so we could tell the story of  war victims and why our work matters.

His commitment to the cause of humanizing war lives on in a partnership with The Chris Hondros Fund established by his fiancee Christina Piaia.  The Fund will raise awareness and educate the public about the work of photojournalists.  Click here to learn more about Chris and the Fund: http://www.chrishondrosfund.org/index.html

Below are a few of his incredible images.

 

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Honoring Marla Ruzicka: One individual who changed war for many

Seven years ago, the world lost a passionate advocate for civilians caught in the crossfire. Today, CIVIC will have a moment of silence in remembrance of our founder Marla Ruzicka and her Iraqi colleague Faiz Ali Salim.  We’ll pause our work at 2 PM EST, and we invite you to do the same.

Marla’s life is an example of the impact one committed individual can have. We honor her legacy every day by working to make warring parties more responsible to civilians in war. We train troops to prevent civilian harm. We work with warring parties to create civilian tracking and response systems, so they learn from mistakes and know who to help. And when military intervention is considered, as it may be in Syria, we remind them of the potential civilian cost.

Please take a moment today to remember her work and commitment to civilians in conflict

What We Should All Want to Know about a Military Intervention for Syria

On the blog for Article 3 Advisors, CIVIC’s Sarah Holewinski looks at military intervention in Syria and the questions all strategists should be asking: “If military intervention becomes the only way to protect civilians from this regime, there are a few things I want Turkey, the US, NATO, or any other military volunteer to be asking and answering before they utter the word Tomahawk.”

Read the full blog here.

Fast Forward: What would an expedited transition mean for Afghan civilians?

Trevor Keck is based in Kabul, Afghanistan for CIVIC.  He is assessing Afghan National Security Force preparedness to protect civilians after NATO and its allies withdraw.

 

I’ve been in Jalalabad this week, in eastern Afghanistan, where people are very concerned about their safety and future.  One doctor told me, “When I leave in the morning, I am not sure I will see my son again.”  Civilians live in fear of roadside bombs, suicide attacks, targeted assassinations, and kidnappings.  Government officials are afraid to leave the provincial capital.  And they should be.  In December, the Attorney General was attacked, and just this week a judge was kidnapped and later killed by an armed group.

What comes next for these Afghans? And when?

I see a perfect storm brewing.  The Koran burnings, the tragic massacre of seventeen civilians in Kandahar and the increasing number of “green-on-blue” incidents have strengthened calls from within both the U.S. and Afghanistan for a swifter transition to Afghan-led security.  So while President Obama vows to stick to the timetable of late 2014, there’s talk that these events and deteriorating relations between the two governments will hasten the withdrawal of international forces.

A speedier transition may be encouraging to an American public now firmly opposed to continuing the war, but it could be detrimental for Afghan civilians, left under the protection of a security force that is not ready to keep them safe. Even if the timetable stands, the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) may not be prepared or equipped for the daunting task in front of them.

By the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF)’s own assessments, fewer than 45% of Afghan forces are “effective with advisors,” meaning that even with steady mentoring most Afghan troops and police are not able to do their job effectively. And as of last month only 1% of Afghan forces are considered capable of conducting security operations without ISAF’s assistance”—an alarming statistic given that Afghans are increasingly taking the lead in security operations including those unpopular and sometimes deadly night raids.

In Jalalabad, the people I met are not confident in the ability of Afghan forces to provide security. In fact, many see the ANSF as part of the problem.  One individual I spoke to working on development projects along the Afghan – Pakistani border told me that Afghan troops have engaged in theft and abused civilians near his projects.  He told me that people often don’t report these incidents out of fear of retribution.

But civilians are also killed or injured in incidents that don’t amount to a violation of the law.  According to the U.N., most civilian harm attributed to the ANSF is incidental.  Civilians may be caught in the crossfire of ground engagements with insurgents, or hurt during “escalation of force” incidents, whereby nervous Afghan forces escalate force in responding to a threat with lethal fire.

To better protect civilians, ISAF has recently put in place processes to track, investigate, analyze and respond to civilian casualties.  While international forces still harm civilians, their efforts have led to an overall decrease in civilian casualties caused by their operations.

In comparison, Afghan security ministries do not have any similar mechanisms to track, investigate, analyze or respond to civilian casualties.  As ISAF learned, establishing a civilian casualty tracking mechanism is critical to developing best practices and identifying problematic trends to be corrected through training.  In addition, a civilian casualty-tracking unit could also be a focal point for investigations into alleged abuse, and thus strengthen accountability within the ANSF.

Afghan security officials I meet with claim their forces do not and will not harm civilians because they understand local dynamics better than international forces.  This is dangerously naïve.  While Afghan forces are certainly better positioned to understand the situation around them, civilian casualties are an unfortunate—if not inevitable part of war—especially when militaries with less experience, training and equipment are waging battle.  Without processes in place and a mindset that prioritizes civilian protection, Afghan troops will likely act with less concern for civilians.

Recently, representatives from ISAF and the Afghan government have stated their commitment to establishing an Afghan system for tracking civilian casualties.  These are heartening words that must be met with action. It will take time to implement such a system and get buy-in from commanders. And for it to work, Afghans will need to own the process. As one insider told me, “it was hard enough to get NATO forces to be proactive about preventing and responding to civilian casualties.” Getting a less experienced military behind it may prove even more difficult.

Still, ensuring Afghan forces are prepared not to harm their own people during combat is necessary and urgent, as calls for a swifter security transition mount. Afghan officials should move now, this minute, to establish policies and procedures to prevent civilian casualties through tracking and investigations, correct for abuses and “make amends” if and when civilians are harmed.  The US and allied nations should do their part by providing technical assistance and prevailing on their counterparts in Afghan ministries to put these mechanisms in place.  But in the end, it’s the Afghan leadership – both military and political — that have obligations to the civilians they’re supposed to keep safe and those they harm. Taking on these responsibilities in a more meaningful way should start now.

 

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