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NATO-Caused Civilian Casualties Increasing in Afghanistan

USA Today obtained statistics from NATO’s International Security Assistance Force, Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s command in Afghanistan, that show an increase in civilian casualties attributable to NATO forces during the first three months of 2010 relative to the same period in 2009:

NATO troops accidentally killed 72 civilians in the first three months of 2010, up from 29 in the same period in 2009, according to figures the International Security Assistance Force gave USA TODAY. The numbers were released after Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, issued measures to protect ordinary Afghans.

McChrystal’s command and supporters had loudly trumpeted United Nations statistics in January that showed the proportion of ISAF-caused civilian casualties to decline last year. A spokesman, British Lt. Cmdr. Iain Baxter, told the paper that “the pace of operations this year is considerably higher than last.” Which may be true, but strategically, that makes the rise in ISAF-caused casualties worse for ISAF. If Afghan civilians are seeing ISAF troops more and more, and they’re also seeing ISAF troops kill more of their countrymen, then the resultant embitterment is likely to compound, not diminish.

In fact, McChrystal put it best in his June confirmation hearing:

“I believe the perception caused by civilian casualties is one of the most dangerous enemies we face,” McChrystal said, as the loss of popular support “will be strategically decisive,” which is to say the war will be lost. He vows to review “all” U.S. procedures in Afghanistan to ensure that casualties will be minimized “except in self-defense.” McChrystal expects he’ll need more intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance assets to get “more precision … to reduce civilian casualties and to reduce the impact [of U.S. troops] on the civilian population.” It’s not “a panacea,” but “the more you’ve got, the smarter you are as a force.”

Now McChrystal intends to push into Kandahar, a more densely populated area than the Helmand areas where he has placed most of his operational emphasis to date. Already President Hamid Karzai said he will oppose any Kandahar action without local support, and on a recent trip with McChrystal to a local shura, the elders shouted, “We are not happy” about the impending operation. McChrystal told the Pentagon press corps in March that “one of the things we’ll be doing [ahead of the Kandahar operation] in the shaping is working with political leaders to try to get an outcome that makes sense,” adding, “before we do a military operation in Afghanistan, we really have got to get the consent of the people who are going to be affected by that operation.” It might not have been outright veto power over the operation, but it certainly tethered the Kandahar operation to local support. And now Gareth Porter thinks McChrystal’s command is backing away from that because it’s getting an answer it doesn’t like.

What will McChrystal do?

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