• 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

  • Advertisements

AFGHANISTAN: U.S. Too Quick To Justify Afghan Deaths (The Huffington Post)

By Sarah Holewinski, Executive Director of CIVIC

Conclusions from the US investigation into the May 4th airstrikes in Afghanistan are leaking out. It appears that US personnel made mistakes–resulting in civilian deaths–by not sticking to their own stringent guidelines on the use of force. After eight years in Afghanistan, American forces finally have good rules in place to minimize civilian deaths, but didn’t stick to them when they counted the most, in the heat of battle.

So why are US officials still blaming the Taliban? Lt. Commander Christine Sidenstricker said in Kabul today, “The fact remains that civilians were killed because the Taliban deliberately caused it to happen. They forced civilians to remain in places they were attacking from.”

Let’s break this down to the nuts and bolts: Taliban tactics are egregious. They put civilians in harm’s way. They are violating international laws and everyone knows it. This makes the US military’s job a whole lot harder.

But regardless of what the other side does in war, the US military has responsibilities to avoid civilians and obey its targeting restrictions.

If you want to talk strategy instead of international law, avoiding civilian deaths is smart. Everyone knows that too. That’s why the US military put in place rigorous rules of engagement that ushered in several months of far fewer airstrike casualties. In Farah Province on May 4th, those rules could have saved lives. In one case, a plane given the OK to attack the Taliban didn’t confirm its target before dropping bombs. That might have given the Taliban time to flee and civilians time to enter the target zone. In another, buildings housing militants were struck, but the “imminent threat” required to green light for bombing wasn’t there.

The new US commander in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal, told the Senate this week: “In addition to the tragic loss of life, I am acutely aware of the negative repercussions resulting from civilian casualties.” He’s got it right: civilian deaths breed anger. But so do immediate denials of civilian harm in incidents like Farah. US Commanders need to understand this quickly. President Obama and Secretary Clinton appropriately expressed their regret for the Afghans burying their dead, but other US officials accused villagers and the Afghan Government of exaggerating the numbers killed.

And now to continue to downplay the US role even after the results of this investigation are made public, they’re literally adding insult to injury.

Advertisements

AFGHANISTAN: Who compensates those the Taliban hurts? (continued from below)

The UN reported that 1160 civilians were killed by Taliban or insurgent activities in 2008, and these are likely only an estimate given that in many Taliban-dominated areas, civilians are afraid to report individual targeting, threats, or other losses. If so many are affected by insurgent parties, what can be done to compensate and help them?

The most obvious question, of course, is what about the insurgents themselves? Although there are certainly examples of non-state actors in other conflicts providing compensation or victim assistance after a conflict incident, we haven’t seen much evidence of this in Afghanistan. One official told us of a Taliban group in the south paying 300,000 afghanis (about $6000) to those killed in conflict, but we were not able to verify this hearsay through any other sources. From using civilians as human shields to aggressively targeting and harassing those who cooperate with the government or the international community, it seems that insurgent tactics in recent years have trended more toward intimidation and fear than “winning hearts and minds” by providing compensation to victims of conflict.

If not the insurgents themselves, then who else could take responsibility for this population? Some of the different international militaries’ compensation and condolence payments, and also the USAID Afghan Civilian Assistance Program, will help victims of suicide attacks on international military convoys. They also typically will help those who are targeted by the Taliban (for example, drivers, translators, others) because they were assisting international military forces. But none of these programs would have helped Mustapha’s pain and suffering.

The Afghan government seems to be the best candidate for this, not only as a warring party but as the warring party with some responsibility for the wellbeing of all its citizens who are caught in the conflict. In fact, the Afghan government has two programs – an executive fund by President Karzai and a ministerial fund called the Martyrs’ and Disabled Fund – that should technically cover victims of pro-government (international military and Afghan government forces) and insurgent forces alike. In practice though, President Karzai’s fund has been used almost exclusively to address harm caused where international forces are involved (The one notable exception has been when it was given following a suicide attack targeting a crowd watching a dog fight in Kandahar province). The Martyrs & Disabled Fund – which provides a type of monthly pension program to the beneficiaries of those killed or to those disabled in any conflict-related incident – also fails to cover this need because significant issues in corruption and implementation prevent it from having much practical impact (for more, see Chapter 5 of CIVIC’s Afghanistan report).

CIVIC has been proposing a common compensation mechanism for Afghanistan. This compensation mechanism could take a lot of different forms, and one possibility is an all-encompassing fund or mechanism that would cover victims of any warring party involved – whether international military, Afghan forces or insurgent groups. Short of that, significant changes in the existing Afghan programs might be a way to get compensation to many of the civilians who are taking the brunt of increased insurgent activity.

AFGHANISTAN: Who compensates those the Taliban hurts?

Posted by:  Erica G.

One of the most difficult challenges we faced this year in our Afghanistan work was how to get compensation to victims of Taliban or insurgent abuses. They are not only responsible for a greater proportion of civilian deaths (55% in 2009, according to the UN), but often because of insurgent tactics that have knowingly placed civilians at risk, including using them as human shields.

A UNAMA official based in a remote and heavily Taliban-controlled province called me a few days ago with a recent case he had been dealing with: insurgents had apprehended a man named Mustapha and whipped him with a cable in his genital region until all that was left was a bloody pulp. Although the circumstances of why he was targeted were not entirely clear, one factor influencing the severity of the punishment was that insurgents felt he was not entirely supporting their cause, raising issues of a war crime violation. The UNAMA official felt so stricken with the pain Mustapha was in (he could not even afford pain medication) that he gave him all the cash he had on hand. He called to ask me if there were not some government program or way to get compensation for this man?

In my next blog posting, I’ll discuss more broadly what help might be available for victims of insurgents…

FT. LEAVENWORTH: CIVIC Participating in Military Training Exercise

Posted By:  Marla B

Sarah and I are here at Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas this week at the Army Command and General Staff College (CGSC).  CGSC is a leading educational and intellectual center for the Army in developing leaders for full spectrum joint, interagency and multinational operations.  We were invited to participate in a training exercise with this year’s class.  Participation of NGOs in this level of military training is an excellent opportunity and one we are finding the military is becoming more and more open to.  After just one day (the whole exercise runs a full week) we are incredibly impressed with what we’ve seen.  The schedule is quite packed but we’ll post updates when we can.

The Way Forward: More Troops Alone Will Not Win Back Afghans’ Confidence (from The Huffington Post)

Posted by:  Erica

KABUL, AFGHANISTAN – This week I’ve had a lot of meetings at the Kabul headquarters for the NATO mission here, ISAF. Everyone in Kabul, but especially the military types, are humming about a new “comprehensive strategy” for Afghanistan.  A quick survey of the event coverage and op-ed sections of most US newspapers suggest a similar buzz is going on an ocean away. On Thursday, scholars Max Boot, Frederick Kagan, and Kimberly Kagan argued that more troops and a large-scale presence in Afghanistan was the only way to get accurate intelligence for targeting insurgents. “The only way to get the intelligence we need is from the residents, and they won’t provide it unless our troops stay in their villages to provide protection from Taliban retribution.”

Unfortunately in the past, placing troops closer to Afghan populations has not often led to greater protection. As a result, it has often produced more resentment and anger than trust and good intelligence.

A few months ago, I spoke with a community from Helmand province that had fled to Kabul to avoid repeated fighting. They said their community was targeted by the Taliban because of the proximity of nearby troops, and when the Taliban entered their village, rather than protecting them, the troops fired on them. “We don’t have any power to prevent the Taliban from fighting in our village and bringing this conflict to us,” one leader told me, “We blame the Taliban for [bringing] the fighting to our village, but we also blame ISAF that it doesn’t recognize who is the enemy and who is a civilian.”

To add insult to injury, following the bombardment, ISAF troops failed to reach out or help the community rebuild the lives that had been shattered by aerial bombardments and Taliban harassment. Every civilian who witnessed or heard about the treatment of this community walked away with the impression that international troops recklessly attacked a civilian community, and then ignored the deaths of their loved ones.

The folks I’ve met with at ISAF this week have been quick to point out new tactical directives designed to limit civilian losses. Equally encouraging, they pointed to efforts made to improve the tracking of civilian losses, and to promptly recognize and make amends for harm caused. In January 2009, for example, following three different instances where US Special Forces night raids led to civilian losses, US representatives promptly acknowledged the losses and provided condolence payments to those harmed.

This is a sea change from last summer, when the standard reaction to claims of civilian losses was immediate denial and no follow-up. But there’s still a long way to go from past conduct with regard to civilian losses and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon’s suggestion to the Security Council Friday, that the security of the Afghan people must be troops’ “primary goal.”

For a true strategic rethink, we’ll have to do more than dust up around the margins. More troops alone will not win back Afghans’ trust. We’re going to have to earn it. Part of that will be showing that potential civilian losses are a central concern when tactical decisions are made. And when losses do occur, we need to show that they matter, by responding promptly with apologies and condolences. More proactive responses by individual troop contributing countries, like the US, are a positive development. But in a coalition, we have to get better together. ISAF needs to take on more coordinated approach the issue of civilian losses in conflict and ensure that all international troops respond promptly with apologies and help when harm does happen. If it doesn’t, all the troops NATO can muster will not win back the one ally who really matters in this war — the Afghan people.

Salt in the Wound: The Case for Compensation (from the Huffington Post)

KABUL, Afghanistan – I’ve written generally in the last few blogs about the compensation and victim assistance issues that CIVIC analyzed in our recent report. Let’s take a concrete example of the type of harm and redress we’re talking about. A few months ago, I met several families who lost relatives and friends in a July 2008 US airstrike that mistakenly targeted a wedding party in eastern Afghanistan. Forty-seven were killed, the vast majority women and children. Those visiting the site a few days after the incident described a road scorched and pocked with craters, body parts and bits of wedding veil mixed into the rubble.

In the immediate aftermath of the strike, US officials denied any civilian deaths and to this day have never provided the community with an apology or recognition. Communities across Afghanistan heard about the incident and the lack of US follow-up or recognition, generating widespread anger that those who came to Afghanistan promising peace and help killed so many innocent civilians without even a token of respect. An elderly man from the community told me, “People believe ISAF just pours salt in the wound, because of how they acted. People are angry because no representative from ISAF came to see what happened, to apologize that it was a mistake.” One teenage boy who lost his 16-year-old sister in the strike said, “I feel bad and angry when I see international soldiers. I thought that they were coming to help and bring peace but they aren’t paying attention to civilians.”

The irony is that the tools necessary to do right by these families were already there. Most international military forces in Afghanistan – the US included – have non-legally binding slush funds for providing civilians with recognition and help when they are harmed. The United Kingdom gave an estimated £700,000 between April 2006 and October 2008; the U.S. obligated more than $876,137 for troops in the eastern region of Afghanistan between January 2006 and November 2008; Canadian troops paid approximately $243,000 from 2005 to 2008. The Afghan government fund paid in excess of $5 million to victims or their families in 2007.

Sadly, in Afghanistan, good intentions (or at least sound allocations of funding) have been weighed down by liability concerns, bureaucracy, lack of coordination, and lack of initiative. I interviewed 143 civilians for our latest CIVIC report, and only a handful had received any of these compensation or ex gratia payments. Most international troops expect Afghans to come to them when an incident happens. But while troops say they have an “open door” to Afghan civilians, Afghans find that door is barricaded by barbed wire and heavily armed, hostile men. Most troops have funds to give, but there is no common policy among the international forces and no mechanisms for forwarding claims among the 41 different partners of the NATO mission there. So unless an affected family can identify which troops were involved and bring the claim to those troops directly, they have no chance of getting any answers, any help.

The bottom line is that it’s not enough to just fund a compensation mechanism: we need to own it. It’s true, no amount of compensation will bring back a loved one. By the same token, no amount of military or development spending will persuade the Afghan people to support military “outsiders” who treat the deaths of their families, friends and neighbors without recognition or compensation.

Kabul Notebook: Searching for More than Just Talk On Civilian Casualties (from Huffington Post)

KABUL, Afghanistan – I arrived back in Kabul this week. With the snow already melting, many fear that spring – and with it a spring offensive by the Taliban – is already on its way. If past years are any guide, those bearing the lasting costs of an escalation in the conflict will be the civilian population. The CIVIC report we released last week goes in depth on what happens to families caught in the conflict, and what warring parties can do to help them recover. Now the trick is getting someone to pay attention.

Increased fighting last year led to a 40% increase in civilian deaths, according to the United Nations. The Afghan population is tired of watching their friends, family members, and communities torn apart by conflict, and often without any response from an international community that came into Afghanistan with promises of help and peace. I interviewed a man a few months ago who lost several family members and his home to airstrikes in the southern province of Kandahar: “We are not happy with the coalition forces or the AGEs. We are stuck in the middle of them and we cannot escape,” he told me. There’s a great photo New York Times slideshow, the Wounded of Afghanistan, by photojournalist Lynsey Addario that captures more than any words can what Afghan civilians have already suffered in the conflict.

NATO countries have the money for compensation and victim assistance programs, and at least among most countries and the Afghan government, there seems to be the will to do something. After all, the amounts needed for victim support pale in comparison to other military expenditures, and providing some help and recognition can have quite a big “hearts and minds” impact. At the least they can forestall some of the community resentment and anger that happens when civilian losses go unrecognized and ignored.

Sadly, money and good intentions seem to go only so far in Afghanistan. On the one hand people tell me civilian casualties and compensation – now a regular part of President Hamid Karzai’s re-election stump speech – have become too politicized. But then a UN official told me compensation and assistance mechanisms are not a high enough priority vis-a-vis other urgent human rights issues to get any kind of sustained attention and resources. And in between these two perspectives, thousands of affected families continue to struggle on their own for recognition and help.

To read original post:  http://www.huffingtonpost.com/erica-gaston/kabul-notebook-searching_b_170966.html