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AFGHANISTAN: Civilian casualties reportedly peak in August

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KABUL, 5 September 2007 (IRIN) – One hundred and sixty-eight civilians died in armed conflicts, suicide attacks, improvised explosions and aerial bombardments in Afghanistan in August, the country’s human rights watchdog told IRIN on 4 September.

August marked a 16.6 percent increase in civilian deaths over July when 144 non-combatants reportedly lost their lives, the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) said.

“Two thirds of the 168 civilian deaths happened in military operations conducted by international forces against their opposition,” said Mohammad Farid Hamidi, an AIHRC official.

Air strikes by the US army have repeatedly been criticised as a fighting tactic as they inflict heavy losses on local communities, the Afghan human rights organisation said.

Hamidi, however, did not exclusively blame US and NATO-led Western forces for the dozens of civilian casualties.

“The Taliban use civilians as human shields and use perfidious tactics, which endanger ordinary people’s lives,” Hamidi acknowledged.

The AIHRC accused all sides of not providing civilian protection during their military operations.

Investigating civilian causalities

Insecurity has impeded access to conflict areas making it very difficult, if not impossible, for impartial observers to assess the impact of the fighting on civilians.

At least 750 civilians have lost their lives in insurgency-related violence so far this year, the UN told a Western media outlet on 2 September, a 20 percent increase on 2006.

While the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) has selectively shared its confidential statistics on civilian casualties with a few Western media outlets, a senior Afghan official said the organisation is not mandated to “do body counting” in the country.

In an effort to end confusion about civilian casualties, the country’s human rights body has decided to set up an independent unit to regularly investigate, authenticate and report incidents in which armed conflicts affect people’s lives.

“We call on all parties to the conflict to ensure our access to conflict-affected areas and help us disclose reliable facts about incidents in which civilians are harmed,” Hamidi said.

The UN also keeps a secret tally; it collects and verifies reports of civilian casualties in Afghanistan for the organisation’s internal use only.

US and NATO-led international troops based in Afghanistan have often refuted reports of civilian casualties in their military operations against Taliban insurgents.

“In a number of cases we have gone out and investigated, where they have claimed there were civilians killed and in fact those were unfounded,” Reuters quoted US Army Brig-Gen Perry Wiggins as saying.

Taliban insurgents have also refuted reports that their fighters, in clear violation of the rules of war, deliberately harm civilians in their hit-and-run attacks.

Lawsuit demands US reveal civilian deaths in Iraq, Afghanistan

Tue Sep 4, 6:45 PM ET

WASHINGTON (AFP) – A US civil rights group filed a lawsuit Tuesday demanding the American military release documents about civilians killed by US forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, accusing the government of trying to hide the human cost of war.

The American Civil Liberties Union’s legal move came after a request for documents related to civilian deaths under the country’s Freedom of Information laws was rebuffed by the US Navy, the Air Force and Marines. The US Army complied with the ACLU’s year-old request.

The group has already released thousands of documents obtained from the army showing compensation claims from families whose loved ones were killed by stray bullets or in traffic accidents in Iraq and Afghanistan.

On Tuesday, the ACLU released thousands of additional documents revealing court martial proceedings and military investigations in cases in which US soldiers were accused — and often acquitted — of killing civilians intentionally or through negligence.

In its suit filed in federal court in Washington, the ACLU — citing the public’s legal right to information held by the government — demands the Pentagon release “all records relating to the killing of civilians by US forces in Iraq and Afghanistan since January 1, 2005.”

The ACLU accused President George W. Bush’s administration of suppressing information about military and civilian casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“There can be no more important decision in a democracy than whether to go to war, yet this administration has gone to unprecedented lengths to control the information that the American people need to make informed judgments,” said Ben Wizner, a lawyer with the ACLU.

The government’s refusal to meet ACLU’s freedom of information request “unlawfully obstructs the public’s right to know the true costs of our nation’s wars,” Wizner said.

Few of the military investigations or courts martial called for disciplinary action as a result of civilian deaths, according to the documents cited by the ACLU.

In one case, US military authorities called for a US driver to be charged with negligent homicide and reckless endangerment after a six-month-old infant was killed in a traffic accident.

In the probe of a soldier who shot an Iraqi man in the head at close range, an army investigating officer expressed concern that soldiers questioned in the case seemed to lack knowledge or understanding of the rules governing the treatment of enemy prisoners, according to documents cited by the ACLU.


Written by afghandevnews

September 5, 2007 at 5:51 pm

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