Heidi Vogt / Associated Press & Fisnik Abrashi / Huffington Post – 2008-12-31 13:09:14
UN Wants More Protection for Afghan Civilians
Heidi Vogt / Associated Press
KABUL, Afghanistan (December 18, 2008) — The UN chief in Afghanistan called Wednesday for international military forces to revise their agreement with the Afghan government to include practices that will better safeguard civilians.
“For the sustainability of our military presence, for the continued strong support of the Afghan people, it should be done as quickly as possible,” said Kai Eide after making the appeal at a news conference in the capital.
The United Nations has repeatedly criticized international forces for not doing enough to protect Afghan civilians during air strikes, house searches and when detaining suspects. The censure reflects growing uneasiness among the country’s citizens and politicians that an increase in US troops next year could bring more civilian deaths.
“There is a need to revise the agreement that exists,” Eide said. He said foreign troops should standardize practices to minimize air strikes in populated areas, to make Afghan troops the first to enter during house searches, and to make more information available about detainees so that innocent people are not held for long periods on incorrect information.
“If the right provisions are in with regard to house searches, for instance, I believe we can avoid tragic mistakes that are being made today,” Eide said, referring to incidents where confrontations resulted from soldiers not observing local cultural norms. Some reforms already have started, he noted, saying that air strikes in particular have gotten more precise.
The United Nations said in September that 577 Afghan civilians had been killed this year by US, NATO and Afghan troops, a 21 percent jump from 2007.
However, the UN tally said Taliban fighters and other insurgents had killed even more civilians: at least 800 this year.
Military officials say they have policies in place that try to minimize civilian casualties, with specific instructions for more populated areas. Even so, an increased force could mean more civilian deaths, said Lt. Gen. J.B. Dutton, the deputy commander of NATO’S International Security Assistance Force.
“Statistically, if you create opportunities for military action, the chances of creating civilian casualties also exists. So, if you have more opportunities, you might get more civilian casualties,” Dutton said.
Eide said he had already discussed revising military agreements for more civilian protection with Gen. David McKiernan, the commander of US and NATO forces, and Afghan Defense Minister Gen. Abdul Rahim Wardak.
US troops operate in Afghanistan under a bilateral agreement from 2003, while NATO forces act under a UN mandate and a “military technical agreement” established in the same year.
Eide’s statements came as yet another raid sparked confusion in a community about who fired first and who to blame.
The US military said it killed three militants in an overnight raid with Afghan police on a compound housing people with al Qaeda links.
People who were in the compound said that the dead were civilians and that none of them had fired on the troops, according to Jahangir Pashtun, a spokesman for the governor’s office of eastern Khost province. These witnesses told Pashtun that the US troops opened fire on the compound.
© 2008 Hearst Communications Inc.
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UN Accuses US-Led Troops Of Killing Afghan Civilians
Fisnik Abrashi / Huffington Post
KABUL, Afghanistan (August 26, 2008) — In a stark warning to US forces, the Afghan government said it will try to regulate the presence of US troops and their use of airstrikes, while the UN on Tuesday announced that “convincing evidence” exists that an American-led operation killed 90 civilians.
The UN sent in a team of investigators, who relied solely on villagers’ statements in alleging the American-led operation in the western province of Herat on Friday killed 60 children and 30 adults. The US military stood by its account, that 25 militants and five civilians were killed in the operation.
“I don’t have any information that would suggest that our military commanders in Afghanistan don’t believe, still, that this was a legitimate strike on a Taliban target,” Defense Department spokesman Bryan Whitman said in Washington.
The UN allegation comes a day after President Hamid Karzai’s government said it will try to put more controls on the way American and NATO troops operate, a response to a series of airstrikes and other operations this summer that have caused the deaths of scores of civilians.
Afghanistan’s Council of Ministers ordered the ministries of defense and foreign affairs to open negotiations with the US and NATO over the use of airstrikes, house searches and the detentions of Afghan civilians. It also called for a “status of force” agreement to regulate the troops’ presence.
Afghanistan’s effort to rein in foreign forces is similar to steps taken by the Iraqi government, which has demanded a timetable for the withdrawal of US troops and greater control of US operations until their departure.
The UN’s allegation of such a large number of civilian deaths could set the US, UN and the Afghan government on a collision course over the use of military force in Afghan villages, where international troops battle Taliban and al-Qaida militants daily.
Russia on Tuesday circulated a draft Security Council press statement expressing serious concern about the numerous civilian casualties reportedly caused by the airstrike and saying member nations “strongly deplore the fact that this is not the first incident of this kind.”
Press statements must be approved by all 15 Security Council members and Western diplomats said that there was no chance the Russian draft would be adopted.
The draft, obtained by The Associated Press, recognizes the need to combat terrorism, but notes “that killing and maiming of civilians is a flagrant violation of international humanitarian law and human rights law.”
It calls on the US-led coalition, the International Security Assistance Force and all parties in Afghanistan to take steps to ensure the protection of civilians, particularly women and children.
The Russians called for an investigation of the incident.
A recent spate of civilian deaths has added fuel to long-simmering public anger surrounding the issue. In the first week of July, 69 Afghan civilians were killed in two separate operations in eastern Afghanistan, including 47 people killed in Nangarhar province while walking to a wedding party, Afghan officials say.
Afghan officials say that scores of civilians _ between 76 and 90 _ were killed in Herat province on Friday. The head of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission, Ahmad Nader Nadery, has confirmed reports that a memorial ceremony was being held for a militia commander allied with the Afghan police and several relatives and friends from outside the area were staying overnight in the village at the time of the attack.
Civilian casualties have long been a major source of friction between Karzai and his Western backers. Afghan officials say civilian deaths create a rift between the government and the people that Taliban and other anti-government forces use as leverage to turn villagers away from the government.
In addition, Afghans targeted in US raids have complained for years of being pursued based solely on information provided by other Afghans who sometimes are business rivals, neighbors with a vendetta or simply interested in generic reward money for anti-government militants.
According to an Associated Press tally, 705 civilians have been killed this year: 536 by militants, and 158 by international forces; 11 civilians have died in cross fire. The numbers do not include figures from the Herat battle and likely do not account for all civilian deaths this year.
US and NATO officials say they take great care in their targeting but also accuse the militants of hiding in civilian homes and using Afghans as human shields.
Another factor, diplomats in Kabul say, is that Karzai is running for re-election next year. Blaming foreigners for the ills afflicting the country is a sure way to win popular support.
Anti-foreigner sentiment has been rising over the years here, partly because of civilian deaths but also because many Afghans do not see the benefits of billions of dollars in aid that have poured into the country since the ouster of the Taliban in late 2001.
Karzai’s spokesman, Humayun Hamidzada, said Tuesday that the ministers’ decision was made after Afghan officials “lost patience” with foreign forces, and the killings and detentions of civilians during raids in remote villages.
“We do not want international forces to leave Afghanistan until the time our security institutions are able to defend Afghanistan independently,” Hamidzada told reporters.
But the presence of those forces has to be based “within the framework of Afghan law with respect to international law,” he said.
Air Force Lt. Col. Patrick Ryder, a Pentagon spokesman, said the legal framework for the presence of US troops in Afghanistan was established in a 2003 agreement between Kabul and Washington. Done via an exchange of diplomatic notes, the pact is considered a bilateral agreement and is like a status of forces agreement, Ryder said.
In a statement Tuesday, the UN put its weight behind the Afghan government claim of civilian deaths in Herat, saying its investigators “found convincing evidence, based on the testimony of eyewitnesses, and others, that some 90 civilians were killed, including 60 children, 15 women and 15 men.”
The UN did not provide photos or evidence that its investigators who went to the scene saw any graves or that any militants were among those killed. Instead it relied on statements of villagers, local officials and eyewitnesses.
Dan McNorton, a spokesman for the UN in Kabul, said the world body’s investigation is ongoing.
The UN said that “residents were able to confirm the number of casualties, including names, age and gender of the victims.”
“The destruction from aerial bombardment was clearly evident with some 7-8 houses having been totally destroyed and serious damage to many others,” the statement said.
The top US coalition commander has ordered an investigation.
“We welcome getting all the facts on the table,” said Corina Sanders, a US Embassy spokeswoman. “We take civilian casualties very seriously.”
Associated Press writer Pauline Jelinek contributed to this report from Washington.
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