Enough About 'Civilian Casualties': What About Military Murders?

I went to the ISAF website this a.m. to see if there was any further information on yet another NATO soldier’s murder at the hands of yet another Afghan army member, this one not to be confused with last Saturday’s attack, which killed two Americans. Not much there, even now as the news has broken that the NATO soldier was murdered in his quarters by a uniformed Afghan soldier who got away before the murder was discovered.

The top story, however. is about civilian casualties. Titled “Senior Afghans and ISAF Gather to Address the Issue of Civilian Casualties,” it’s a report about an actual conference on the issue attended by “the senior leadership of Afghanistan, United Nations Assistance Mission to Afghanistan, nongovernmental organizations and the International Security Assistance Force to promote open dialogue on the important topic.”

FYI: The latest UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) figures tell us 75 percent of all civilian deaths in 2010 came at the hands of jihadist forces (up 28 percent from 2009). Only 16 percent were linked to pro-government forces (down 26 percent from 2009). Is “open dialogue” really necessary on this topic? Or should Afghan leadership take the topic up with their Taliban brethren, not ISAF? Looks as if this just a yak-and-pony show for hearts and minds.

Quoth Petraeus:

“Today’s conference will play an important role by providing an opportunity for a candid exchange of views and ideas as we work through the tragic consequences of armed conflict….ISAF has sought to take every action possible to minimize the loss of innocent life. Yet we must always strive to do more. We must explore every possibility to protect innocent life and employ every good idea to provide safety and security for the Afghan people.”

ISAF hosted the conference to hear Afghans’ views on civilian causalities

Correction: on the 16 percent of such casualties linked to pro-government forces….

and to share ISAF initiatives with attendees.

Yak-and-pony show.

Afghan leaders who participated in the conference included members of The Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, parliament, UNAMA, Kabul University intellectuals and many agencies that have an interest in protecting Afghan civilians – a goal shared by ISAF.

“Civilian casualties aren’t simply a military issue; it is also an Afghan issue,” said British Army Colonel Paul Harkness, ISAF Chief of Operations and organizer of the conference. “We need to consciously see the issue through Afghan eyes. We need ensure our dialogue is continuous. We know a great deal about the issue, but we can always learn more.”

Developing a greater level of trust and assuring Afghans that ISAF genuinely cares about their losses were other goals of the conference. …

How long have we been talking about developing a greater level of Afghan trust? For years. I think my alltime favorite iteration of this mantra comes from BG Steven Kwast who in August 2009 said: “Victory in this conflict is about winning the hearts and minds of the Afghan people and engendering their trust. When the Afghan people trust us and believe us when we tell them what we’re going to do, we will win this overnight.”

Meanwhile, have a conference. Ignore, downplay the Afghan murders of innocent NATO (usually US) service members, and justify the permanent war for trust or whatever as a point of pity for the Afghans. Which brings me to this week’s syndicated column ….

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