Bagram Air Base -Afghanistan
The myth of extensive civilian casualties caused by American bombing is the second-biggest myth in press coverage of Afghanistan. (The first is the use of the word “reconstruction” to describe the pretty near wholesale invention of infrastructure and the institutions of modern civil society here.) The myth has it that U.S. forces kill massive numbers of Afghan civilians, driving them into the arms of the Taliban.
On Oct. 26, I got the 2008 to-date figures for civilian casualties caused by the U.S. military from Lt. Col. Rumi Nielson-Green, the military spokesman at Bagram. These apply to the 14 provinces of Regional Command East, which doesn’t include the battleground provinces of Kandahar, Helman, Uruzgon and Zabul, which are patrolled by NATO.
In the first 300 days of 2008, there were 22 civilians killed in a variety of separate incidents; 35 confirmed by a CentCom investigation into the attack in Herat Province that has received so much attention; and a preliminary estimate of 20 to 30 in a July 6 incident under investigation in Nuristan. (The victims’ relatives said they were innocent civilians attending a wedding, but the strike on the gathering occurred at 4 a.m., Nielson-Green observed.) This would mean 77 to 87 in the 14 eastern provinces.
This tallies with what I have been able to find out about 2007. This past April, Col. Marty Schweitzer told me that in his area of operations–the six eastern provinces of Khost, Paktia, Paktika, Ghazni, Logar and Wardak–just 11 civilians were accidentally slain by U.S. forces in 2007. I verified with the provincial maneuver commanders that one civilian each was killed in Khost and in Ghazni.
The Army numbers represent a 20% to 30% increase over last year, and Nielson-Green states that the upsurge is partly the result of greater activity by U.S. forces, trying to cut insurgent infiltration routes and destroy supply depots. The U.S. military is almost painfully unwilling to authorize strikes it thinks may cause civilian casualties. Afghanistan’s ambassador to the U.S., Said T. Jawab, told me in January of this year that “in Helmand, people will come to me and tell me that the Afghan government and U.S. military are too soft on the Taliban.” (more…)