According to a new United Nations report, 2009 was the deadliest year for Afghan civilians since the U.S. invaded in 2001. The international body tallied 2,412 civilian deaths, a spike from 2,118 killed in 2008. But insurgents were responsible for the vast majority. The population-protection measures taken by Gen. Stanley McChrystal, who took command in Afghanistan in June, are responsible for a significant drop in U.S.-caused casualties. Agence France Presse:
Civilian deaths caused by Western troops fell 28 percent last year compared to the year before, it said, attributing the drop to measures taken specifically to protect civilians.
Commander of the foreign forces in Afghanistan, US , has made minimising civilian deaths and injuries a central tenet of his counter-insurgency strategy, and has ordered reduced air strikes as one way of achieving this objective.
The UN report said the change in NATO forces’ command structure, “specific steps to minimize civilian casualties” and “a new tactical directive” by the force contributed to the reduction in non-combatant deaths.
McChrystal can take credit for that drop, and the international recognition of his efforts is vindication. But it’s a cold comfort, given the overall spike in civilian casualties. McChrystal has testified that his metrics for success include protecting civilians from harm — whether from his troops or from the Taliban. While the deaths he’s directly responsible for are pointing in the right direction, the bottom-line total clearly isn’t.