Troop Increase in Afghanistan Risks Spike in Civilian Casualties

Posted: December 6, 2009 in Uncategorized
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“Loyalty to the community is…morally tolerable only if it includes values wider than those of the community.”
–Reinhold Niebuhr, one of President Obama’s “favorite philosophers,” in The Irony of American History, p. 37.

According to The New York Times, the new plan in Afghanistan will involve sending large new deployments of troops into insurgency-prone areas like Khandahar and Khost. Operation Khanjar earlier this year did likewise, and the results from that operation show that concerns about Afghan civilian casualties take a back seat to the U.S. government’s goal of dislodging the Taliban from their traditional strongholds.

Note the graph below, which summarizes casualty data compiled by the U.N. Assistance Mission to Afghanistan for January – August 2009. Following Operation Khanjar’s initial thrust into Helmand province, the rate of civilian death attributed to the conflict skyrocketed.  Roughly as many civilians died in Afghanistan the two months following the launch of Khanjar as died in the prior 6 months. According to a U.N. spokesperson who responded to my email inquiries, “the overwhelming majority” of those deaths occurred in the south.

Civilian Casualty Information from UNAMA

Source: UNAMA public casualty data and private correspondence.

Most of the civilian deaths were caused by IEDs. The simplest explanation for the rise in the casualty rate would be that as our troops moved into insurgent strongholds in Helmand, the insurgents responded by either laying more IEDs or laying them in more populous areas, and the IEDs killed civilians. This certainly falls in line with the expectations of Joint IED Defeat Organization Director Lt. Gen. Thomas Metz, paraphrased by Stars and Stripes on October 28, 2009:

IED attacks in Afghanistan have gone up along with the rising troop levels and likely will continue to increase if more U.S. forces are sent there…

Operation Khanjar could be viewed as a dress rehearsal for the much larger deployment of U.S. troops planned for early next year. The U.S. military expects the reaction to a new deployment will be a rise in IED attacks. We know new IED attacks will mean many more civilian deaths, not to mention the number of civilians that will be directly killed by U.S. forces. We’re doing it anyway.

This brings to mind a question asked by Wendell Berry in his “Questionnaire:”

5. State briefly the ideas, ideals, or hopes,
the energy sources, the kinds of security,
for which you would kill a child.
Name, please, the children whom
you would be willing to kill.

At least we answered the second half of the question.

Note: Derrick Crowe is the Afghanistan blog fellow for Brave New Foundation / The Seminal. Say no to escalation in Afghanistan by signing our CREDO petition at For each signature, CREDO will donate a dollar to support Crowe’s work. You can also join Brave New Foundation’s #NoWar candlelight vigil on Facebook and Twitter to show your opposition to the war. But make these your first steps as an activist to end this war, not your last.


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