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U.N. Reported Only a Fraction of Civilian Deaths from U.S. Raids in Afghanistan

If the same law used in counting victims of Taliban assassinations were applied to those targeted in night raids, the victims would have to be considered civilian casualties.
 
 
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The number of civilians killed in U.S. Special Operations Forces (SOF) raids last year was probably several times higher than the figure of 80 people cited in the U.N. report on civilian casualties in Afghanistan published last week, an IPS investigation has revealed.

The report also failed to apply the same humanitarian law standard for defining a civilian to its reporting on SOF raids that it applied to its accounting for Taliban assassinations.

The Mar. 9 report, produced by the Human Rights unit of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) jointly with the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC), said a total of 80 civilians were killed in "search and seizure operations" by "Pro-Government Forces" in 2010.

But AIHRC Commissioner Nader Nadery told IPS the figure represented only the number of civilian deaths in night raids in the 13 incidents involving SOF units that the Commission had been able to investigate thoroughly.

Nadery said the AIHRC had received complaints from local people alleging civilian casualties in 60 additional incidents involving raids and other activities by Special Forces. "We did not include them in the report, because we were unable to collect the exact figures for casualties, which takes time," Nadery said.

The AIHRC is continuing to investigate those 60 events, according to Nadery, and will report on the results in the future.

The Mar. 9 report refers to "60 incidents of night raids that caused civilian casualties", but does not inform the reader that only a fraction of the total casualties alleged in those incidents were counted in the total.

At least one of the 13 incidents investigated by the AIHRC was an air strike called by an SOF unit. The 80 deaths from at most 12 incidents or less would suggest an average of at least seven civilians killed per incident.

If the sample of night raids investigated is representative of the total of 60 incidents of SOF night raids about which civilian casualty complaints were generated, the total number of civilians killed would be around 420.

The UNAMA-AIHRC report shows a total 406 killings of civilians by "Anti-Government Elements" reported for 2010.

But the UNAMA-AIHRC report uses a strict humanitarian law definition of "civilian" in regard to victims of assassination by "Anti-Government Elements" which was not applied to victims of U.S. night raids.

"If Afghan soldiers travelling from one place to another, on holiday, with no weapon and no uniform, are killed, we count them as civilians, and the same with policemen," Nadery told IPS.

Mayors and district chiefs, who participate in military planning with NATO military commanders, were also considered civilian victims of assassination, according to Nadery.

A large proportion of those killed as "Taliban" in SOF night raids, however, would also qualify as civilians under this definition.

Matthew Hoh, formerly the senior U.S. foreign service officer in Zabul province before his 2009 resignation, was familiar with the target list for SOF kill or capture raids. He told IPS the list included Afghans holding every kind of non-combat function in the Taliban network, including propagandists and workers who make Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs).

UNAMA team leader Denise Lifton conceded that the report had made no effort to ascertain what positions had been occupied by those who had been killed in U.S. raids. "We have not looked at the functions, per se, of those [who are] accused of being Taliban and are killed," she said in an e-mail to IPS.

Night raids generally kill Taliban personnel in their own homes, and thus outside the context of a military operation.

 
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