Helmand, Afghanistan – (GPA) Civilian casualties hit record numbers in Afghanistan in 2016. 18 civilians lost their lives just last week. Could the international community’s disdain for President Trump finally force the US to be held accountable for war crimes and civilian deaths? Maybe not, but at least mainstream media is reporting on it.
Civilian Toll & US Role
The UN announced this month that civilian casualties in Afghanistan hit record numbers in 2016. 11,418 civilians– 3512 children– killed or injured last year. Ground operations killed the largest numbers, but air strikes took a close second. Keep in mind that while 2016 saw record breaking numbers, civilian figures have been consistently high since at least 2009.
Unfortunately, 2009 is the first year the UN started recording figures, so we don’t have concrete figures from the Bush administration to look at. We do, however, know that the Bush administration carried out an on-the-ground operation along with a bombing campaign. (And we can’t forget black site detention centers, torture, and human rights violations.) So it’s probably safe to say that civilian casualties ranged in the thousands each year.
Of course, Afghanistan is just a small piece of a much larger decades-long regional war throughout the Middle East, Africa, and Central Asia. But we can refer to Afghanistan right now as a template for how things may play out during the Trump administration.
Last year, the Department of Defense devoted a good portion of military spending to “fully funding” and training the Afghan Security Forces. This also included stepping up airstrikes both of which contributed to the high civilian casualties from last year.
Continuing Decades of Destruction
Unfortunately it doesn’t look like things will change much under the new US administration. According to the UN mission in Afghanistan, US airstrikes killed 18 civilians last week– mostly women and children. Locals claim the civilian casualties seems to come from a lack of intelligence coordination between the US and Afghan governments and apathy.
“The Americans have been taking revenge on us, they don’t differentiate between civilians and noncivilians, women and children. They must coordinate with the Afghan government,” said Abdul Ghafar Akhund who recently lost his entire family to an airstrike.
Yemen also put Washington’s short-sighted apathetic strategy immediately into focus after 1 Navy Seal and dozens of civilians died in a botched al Qaeda raid. Once again, a lack of intelligence coordination was to blame– at least that’s what officials claimed. The raid was such a disaster that the Yemeni government (which is largely considered to be a puppet for Saudi Arabia) asked the US to cease air and ground operations in the country.
More Devastation or “Better” Reporting?
So is the Trump administration even more short-sighted than the 2 previous administrations? Or is the media just choosing to better report on it now? In reality it seems to be a bit of both.
On one hand, Trump has increased involvement in Yemen and Iraq-Syria. But on the other hand, he hasn’t carried out any strikes in Libya. Let’s not forget that he also wants to bring back CIA black site prisons and torture. So as horrible as things were under Obama, they can still get much, much worse.
Without on-the-ground verification, it’s hard to record civilian casualties. And if the organizations tallying deaths are on the side of the US government, can we really trust the numbers?
But Trump is another story. The international (neoliberal) community carries such great disdain for him that everything he does is put under a microscope. Hopefully this leads to somewhat better albeit spiteful reporting from liberal news outlets. Which in turn could (optimistically) lead to holding the US accountable for war crimes. Either way, the next 4 years are sure to be a surprise.
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Also published on Medium.