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HRW report on Afghanistan: civilian deaths after US and NATO airstrikes

Human Rights Watch publicou hoxe un informe de 43 páxinas sobre a morte de civís en Afganistán, debidas ós ataques aéreos das forzas dos Estados Unidos e da OTAN.

O informe leva por título “Troops in Contact”: Airstrikes and Civilian Deaths in Afghanistan. Copio un extracto da introducción:

In the past three years, the armed conflict in Afghanistan has intensified, with daily fighting between the Taliban and other anti-government insurgents against Afghan government forces and its international military supporters. The US, which operates in Afghanistan through its counter-insurgency forces in Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) and as part of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), has increasingly relied on airpower in counter-insurgency and counter-terrorism operations. The combination of light ground forces and overwhelming airpower has become the dominant doctrine of war for the US in Afghanistan. The result has been large numbers of civilian casualties, controversy over the continued use of airpower in Afghanistan, and intense criticism of US and NATO forces by Afghan political leaders and the general public.

As a result of OEF and ISAF airstrikes in 2006, 116 Afghan civilians were killed in 13 bombings. In 2007, Afghan civilian deaths were nearly three times higher: 321 Afghan civilians were killed in 22 bombings, while hundreds more were injured. In 2007, more Afghan civilians were killed by airstrikes than by US and NATO ground fire. In the first seven months of 2008, the latest period for which data is available, at least 119 Afghan civilians were killed in 12 airstrikes.

These figures do not include the airstrike on August 22, 2008 in the village of Azizabad, where many civilians were killed in airstrikes in support of an OEF operation. Although the total number of dead was disputed at the time of writing, the political fallout was significant. The Afghan government ordered its ministries of foreign affairs and defense to review the presence of foreign troops and regulate their presence with a status of forces agreement, negotiate a possible end to airstrikes on civilian targets, uncoordinated house searches, and illegal detention of Afghan civilians.

This followed a July 20 airstrike in which US forces killed nine Afghan National Police officers in Farah province. The US, in particular US Special Operations Forces operating under OEF, have been heavily criticized for lack of coordination and communication with Afghan forces, and the deaths of the police officers highlights continuing problems in this area. Also on July 6, 2008, an airstrike against a “target of opportunity” (thought to be an insurgent force) in Nangahar province killed 47 Afghan civilians taking part in a wedding. Burhanullah Shinwari, who headed an Afghan investigation into the incident, said, “The Afghan people cannot afford more civilian casualties. Therefore, we will demand that President Karzai talk with foreign forces to bring an end to such attacks.”

The harm caused by airstrikes is not limited to the immediate civilian casualties. Airstrikes have caused significant destruction of civilian property, and have also forced civilians to flee and vacate villages, adding to the internally displaced population of Afghanistan. In every case investigated by Human Rights Watch where airstrikes hit villages, many civilians left the village because of damage to their homes but also because of fear of further strikes. People from neighboring villages also sometimes fled in fear of future strikes on their villages. They have also had significant political impact, outraging public opinion in Afghanistan and undermining public confidence in both the Afghan government and its international backers.

Broadly speaking, airstrikes are used in two different circumstances: planned strikes against predetermined targets, and unplanned “opportunity” strikes in support of ground troops that have made contact with enemy forces (in military jargon, “Troops in Contact” or TIC). In our investigation, we found that civilian casualties rarely occur during planned airstrikes on suspected Taliban targets (one in each of 2006 and 2007). High civilian loss of life during airstrikes has almost always occurred during the fluid, rapid-response strikes, often carried out in support of ground troops after they came under insurgent attack. Such unplanned strikes included situations where US special forces units —normally small numbers of lightly armed personnel— came under insurgent attack; in US/NATO attacks in pursuit of insurgent forces that had retreated to populated villages; and in air attacks where US “anticipatory self-defense” rules of engagement applied.

The majority of cases examined in this report involved OEF rather than NATO-led ISAF missions. Human Rights Watch believes that the higher number of cases involving civilian casualties during airstrikes can be attributed to OEF because OEF is most active in Afghanistan’s south and southeast, where the insurgency is strongest, because OEF is heavily reliant on operations led by special forces, and because OEF is governed by a different operational mandate and rules of engagement than ISAF.

The armed conflict in Afghanistan is governed by international humanitarian law (the laws of war). The applicable law on the conduct of hostilities can be found in Protocol I to the Geneva Conventions, which is largely accepted by the United States and NATO states as reflective of customary international law. The Taliban and other insurgent forces are also bound by the laws of war. The laws of war on the conduct of hostilities require warring parties to take all feasible precautions to minimize harm to civilians. They prohibit deliberate and indiscriminate attacks against civilians, and attacks in which the harm to civilians is disproportionate to the expected military gain. […]

8 Setembro 2008 - Posted by | Afghanistan, Human Rights, Human Rights Watch, Politics, United States

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