• 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

Images from the Syrian border

Photographer Nicole Tung accompanied a CIVIC team to the Lebanese border of Syria to speak with refugees in June 2012.  The following images and captions from Nicole are from that trip; CIVIC’s findings from these interviews, and others in Jordan, are here.

We’ll be posting more of Nicole’s photos and CIVIC interviews with civilians on Facebook and twitter–follow us for more!

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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.

 

GUEST BLOG: Afghanistan: A Soldier’s Perspective

By Major Dennis Sugrue

It is an unfortunate reality of war that innocent civilians are harmed.  As a US Army Soldier, I recognize the importance of protecting civilians, especially during combat operations.  Despite our care, civilian casualties and property damage do occur.  I recall the great initiative that we took in Afghanistan to make amends and offer closure to harmed civilians and their families.

From 2006-2007, I deployed to northern Kunar Province, Afghanistan. This is a mountainous and exceptionally remote area.  It is accessible by a single road closed periodically due to rain storms.  Rain was infrequent, but came in torrents when it arrived.  As part of my duties, I interacted with Afghan civilians who had been injured or lost property due to military actions.  Victims would arrive at the gate of our base and, in most cases, I would meet with them.  I would listen to their claims, often over tea, and try to determine validity.  I would walk valid claims to our pay officer and often make monetary compensation in that same meeting.  In these sessions, I also tried to learn about their lives and offer them a glimpse into American life by exchanging stories.

To help these victims, the Army offered compensation or solatia payments. Compensation usually takes the form of monetary payment and medical treatment.  Monetary compensations for damaged property, lost livelihoods, or personal injury are somewhat common in Afghanistan.  These payments are consistent with cultural norms and important to economic stability, but they can fall short of “making things better.”  It was my experience that civilians injured in a warzone often want something far simpler and more valuable – closure.  They seek a human connection offering condolence.  A sincere apology does more to offer closure than any payment possibly could.  Solatia activities should have the ultimate goal to provide a sense of closure for the civilians who suffer losses in combat zones.

LIBYA: Souheid’s story

By Kristele Younes

When I met Souheid, I was already overwhelmed by the toll this conflict is taking on civilians. But Souheid made me understand that I was only seeing the tip of the iceberg. Lying on his bed in a Benghazi hospital, this 8 year-old told me of how his whole life changed after a missile landed in the Misrata house he, his parents, his four siblings and their extended family of fourteen were sharing. “I don’t know what happened,” Souheid told me. “But one minute, we were all sleeping in the same room, away from all the windows to protect ourselves from bullets, and the next, I woke up in the hospital.” Souheid’s prognosis was so dire that he was immediately transferred to the Benghazi hospital I visited him in, where doctors can attend to him without fearing the hospital could be bombed at any moment.

Souheid will likely feel physical pain for the rest of his life. But it was abundantly clear to me, and to his father who sits by his bedside, that the emotional impact of what happened to his family will be much harder to overcome. That night in Misrata, Souheid lost a sister, a brother, his grandmother, his aunt, and three of his cousins.

Souheid and other victims of war need to have their suffering acknowledged. Although it is never possible to make up for these kinds of losses, warring parties should make amends by recognizing the harm and ensuring civilians have the tools they need to regain control of their lives.

Those fighting for a new Libya need to remember that it will be built by the very people who are victimized by the conflict, those who deserve to have their losses recognized and dignified. For Souheid’s and Libya’s sake, preventing, minimizing and addressing civilian harm must be at the heart of both national and international efforts in Libya.

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HUFFINGTON POST: Driving Afghanistan: The Winding Road to an Afghan Takeover

By Sarah Holewinski

I wouldn’t drive a car without working brakes. And I need a wheel to steer, and a speedometer to tell me when I’m not following the speed limit.

Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) will assume responsibility for the security and stability of their own country by 2014. But as a big moving vehicle ramping up to a high speed, it’s missing some of the major controls it needs to protect its own population and not cause even more harm. Continue reading

One Minute Update: Libya

Imam, a Libyan woman whose husband was killed last month while out buying food, told CIVIC: “I don’t want my husband to be just another statistic.”

Kristele just returned from Benghazi, in Eastern Libya, where she met with civilian victims and their families to assess their losses and needs. She met many like Imam, mourning lost loved ones or watching over their injured in the overflowing hospitals. CIVIC’s job now is to advise NATO and opposition forces on minimizing civilian harm, and ensure each and every victim is recognized and helped. We believe Imam’s husband is more than a statistic.

Read more from Kristele’s trip to Libya: BLOG: Harmed civilians need protection too

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