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NATO’s hidden Afghan victims

NATO claims to have killed at least 3,873 individuals – and detained a further 7,146 – since December 2009, but how many of these were actually civilians?

The Afghanistan Analysts Network (AAN) analysed 3,771 NATO press releases over nearly two years (1 December 2009–30 September 2011). They concluded: “violence and disruptive incidents [at the hands of NATO forces] remain a constant presence in the lives of many [Afghans], particularly in provinces or districts with largely rural populations.”

Moreover, “[g]iven the tendency towards non-specificity of numbers, the actual total of those killed or captured is likely to be higher” than the above figures.

Only one in eight of those killed in so-called “capture-or-kill” operations was identified as an insurgent “leader” or “facilitator”. A previous study showed that many so-called “leaders” captured during night-raids were subsequently released by NATO.

The AAN report also said: “The data suggests that [NATO-led forces are] pursuing a ‘networked’ strategy, targeting not only specific individuals (presumably on the basis of evidence) but also others perhaps only tangentially connected to them (for which there may be no evidence of wrongdoing)”.

Missing civilians?

A striking omission in the AAN report – as well as in the mainstream media coverage – was any analysis of NATO’s record of reporting – or failing to report – non-combatant deaths at the hands of its own soldiers.

PN analysed NATO press releases for 50 randomly-chosen days during a one-year period (23 October 2010–22 October 2011), and found only two references to such deaths. On at least one of these occasions NATO appears to have acknowledged the deaths only after being forced to do so by reports in the Afghan media. In stark contrast, NATO press releases are replete with references to “numerous Taliban insurgents” being killed.

In June, Wired magazine reported that NATO was conducting an average of 12 airstrikes a day and that the air campaign had “been running at a similar rate for about the last six months.” Who are we killing in Afghanistan? We’re unlikely to find the answers in NATO’s press releases.

Topics: War news