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The NY Times Goes There
Posted by Steve Hynd on January 13th, 2010

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Last week I wrote about the latest UN report on civilian casualties in Afghanistan, noting that “the good news” was that US and allied forces were only killing one kid a day there, as opposed to the Taliban’s two. Overall, civilian deaths in 2009 are up 14% over 2008, and again the Taliban kill a little more than two civilians to every one killed by the US and its allies.

I wrote: “Before anyone even thinks of it – being only half as guilty of such an atrocity as the Taliban is nothing to be proud of.”

The New York Times’ headline writers don’t seem to think so. Today, they’ve headlined Dexter Filkin’s story on the UN report “U.N. Blames Taliban for Afghan Toll“. Anyone reading the story quickly finds out that the UN has done nothing of the sort – it’s apportioned blame where its due and in proportion. But sheesh, NYT, that headline’s a statement of denial that crosses the line into crass and is insulting to those Afghans who have died at ISAF hands. For shame.

For those who like their data raw, here’s the original report in PDF format.

Depressingly, airstrikes are still causing 61% of all civilian deaths attributed to the US and its allies, although:

“IM forces and ANSF also conducted a number of ground operations that caused civilian casualties, including a large number of search and seizure operations. These often involved excessive use of force, destruction to property and cultural insensitivity, particularly towards women.”

And here’s a twist on the “terrorists use civilians as shields” meme:

“UNAMA HR remains concerned at the location of military bases, especially those that are situated within, or close to, areas where civilians are concentrated. The location and proximity of such bases to civilians runs the risk of increasing the dangers faced by civilians, as such military installations are often targeted by the armed opposition. Civilians have been killed and injured as a result of their proximity to military bases, homes and property have been damaged or destroyed; this can lead to loss of livelihood and income. The location of military facilities in or near residential neighborhoods has also had the effect of generating fear and mistrust within communities and antipathy towards IM forces given their experience of being caught in the crossfire or being the victims of AGE attacks on Government or pro- Government military installations.”

So much for the wisdom, imported from Iraq, that population-centric counterinsurgents must be as close to the people as possible. And here’s another COIN failure, from the NYT’s piece:

According to the new [U.S. military] directive, American and other NATO forces should explore other alternatives to night raids, such as cordoning villages at night and then moving in at sunrise.

“In the Afghan culture, a man’s home is more than just his residence,” a draft of the new guidance said. “It represents his family, and protecting it is closely intertwined with his honor. He has been conditioned to respond aggressively whenever he perceives his home or honor is threatened.

“We should not be surprised that night operations elicit such a response,” the guidance said, “which we then often interpret as the act of an insurgent.”

We saw that in Iraq too. People who shoot back will be killed and labelled as insurgents no matter why they fired back. It’s impossible to tell how much influence that labelling has on final civilian casualty figures, but it doubtless has one.

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