June 22, 2010: After a year of concentrated effort, NATO forces in Afghanistan have reduced civilian casualties, caused by foreign troops, 44.4 percent. There were 7.8 percent fewer battles even involving civilians, and 52 percent fewer civilians hurt by foreign troops. The most striking reduction (82 percent) was in civilian casualties from air strikes. All this is calculated by comparing the last three months with the same period from last year. All this despite nearly twice as many foreign troops in action, and much more combat. Meanwhile, civilian losses from Taliban action are up 36 percent.
Many Afghans are not happy with this policy, with foreign troops increasingly encountering angry Afghan civilians, who demand that NATO act more decisively in pursuing and killing Taliban gunman. Even if it puts Afghan civilians at risk. This is an unexpected side effect to the change in NATO rules of engagement (ROE) in Afghanistan. The ROE change was partly in response to popular (or at least media) anger at civilians killed by American smart bombs. As a result of the new ROE, it became much more difficult to get permission drop a smart bomb when there might be civilians nearby. Now American commanders have to decide who they shall respond too; Afghan civilians asking for relief from Taliban oppression, or Taliban influenced media condemning the U.S. for any Afghan civilians killed, or thought to be killed, by American firepower. What to do? So far, the decision often favors the survival of the Taliban.
Taliban propaganda, and the enthusiasm of the media for jumping on real, or imagined, civilian deaths caused by foreign troops, made people forget that far more civilians (about four times as many) had been killed by the Taliban. But because Afghans have been conditioned to expect more civilized behavior from the foreign troops, much less media attention is paid to the civilians killed by the Taliban and al Qaeda.
Of course, Afghan civilians are aware of who is killing most of the civilians, and that’s why the Taliban and al Qaeda are moving down in the opinion polls. But for the media, hammering foreign troops every time they kill a civilian, or are simply (often falsely) accused of doing so, led to the ROE becoming far more strict than it ever was in Iraq. Thus one Taliban victory you don’t hear much about is how they turned their use of human shields into a powerful, and very successful, propaganda weapon against NATO and U.S. troops, and an excellent way to avoid getting attacked.
This article simply verifies what troops on the ground already know; ROE designed to aid and abet the enemy is no way to win a war. I cannot say this enough: Hand wringers need to divest themselves from the fantasy that we are fighting an enemy that plays by the Marquis of Queensbury Rules. They understand our way of thinking better than we do ourselves. They don’t hesitate to use children as suicide bombers or human shields. They’ve got good occupational experience at torture, mutilation, and gratuitous executions. Anyone who thinks we shouldn’t decimate as many as possible, has a crap factory for a brain. We should be using every method, weapon, strategy, and tactic at our disposal to do so.