The new United Nations report on civilian casualties in Afghanistan shows that the U.S. strategy in Afghanistan is failing, even according to the military’s own doctrine.
The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan reports that the number of civilians killed in the first six months of 2010 spiked by 25 percent compared to the same period last year. According to counterinsurgency (COIN) doctrine, the coalition’s inability to protect civilians from NATO- or insurgent-caused violence seriously undermines any political effort to win the support of the local population. From The U.S. Army / Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual:
“Progress in building support for the [host nation] government requires protecting the local populace. People who do now believe they are secure from insurgent intimidation, coercion, and reprisals will not risk overtly supporting COIN efforts. (p. 179)”
“During any period of instability, people’s primary interest is physical security for themselves and their families. When [host nation] forces fail to provide security or threaten the security of civilians, the population is likely to seek security guarantees from insurgents, militias, or other armed groups. This situation can feed support for an insurgency. (p 98)”
Simply put, according to COIN theory, if you can’t prevent your own side from killing civilians, and you can’t offer credible assurances of security to the population, you lose. And, guess what? Judged by its own standards, the U.S. military is losing:
According to the U.N. report, 1,271 Afghans died and 1,997 were injured — mostly from bombings — in the first six months of the year. There were 1,013 civilian deaths in the first six months of 2009.
The U.N. said insurgents were responsible for 72 percent of the deaths — up from 58 percent last year.
The spike in violence could still undermine NATO’s effort in Afghanistan and increase public hostility to the U.S.-led mission, even though the U.N. blames the insurgents for most of the deaths.
In much of the south, people say they are too scared to work with NATO forces or the Afghan government because they will then be targeted by insurgents. And the risk of attack makes travel, running a business or any sort of community organizing or political campaigning dangerous.
The killing of civilians, however, is more than a strategic problem. Every death of a noncombatant is a moral outrage. The fact that women and children made up a bigger share of this year’s casualties so far underscores the falsehood of claims that war is a humanitarian exercise. According to the full UNAMA report (.pdf):
As civilian casualties rose in the first half of 2010, women and children made up a greater proportion of those killed and injured than in 2009. Women and children experienced an extreme lack of protection in conflict-affected areas along with widespread violation of their basic human rights. From January to June 2010, women casualties increased by six per cent and child casualties leapt by 55 per cent from 2009
Pursuing COIN as a strategy in Afghanistan was itself a failure. The idea that we should launch a major conventional 100,000-plus troop invasion in response to the actions of a few dozen terrorists is ludicrous. Doing so plays right into the hands of terrorists and insurgents, who use occupations to recruit and drive their agenda.
The Afghanistan War is a costly, brutal failure that’s not making us safer. It’s time to end it.