Washington | The United States underestimates the long-term impact of civilian deaths on the success of military missions and is failing to implement lessons learned from 15 years in Afghanistan, according to a report released today.
While the US military is committed to avoiding civilian casualties, the report said that mistaken air strikes, misidentified target, unexploded ordinance and rogue partners have frequently led to non-combatant deaths in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and elsewhere.
The study by Open Society Foundations, a charity founded by US magnate and philanthropist George Soros, found that in Afghanistan, such deaths seriously undermined the mission and fueled the growth of the Taliban. Civilian harm accelerated the insurgency and undermined the US and Afghan governments, said Army combat veteran Christopher Kolenda, a study co-author. It was like burning a candle at both ends with a blowtorch.
The report describes several causes of civilian casualties, and is particularly critical of unplanned air strikes to support troops on the ground as being a primary driver of civilian harm. In Afghanistan in 2008, for instance, air strikes accounted for 64 percent of the 828 non-combatant deaths blamed on pro-government forces, and 26 percent of those killed overall.
Signature strikes — when an individual or group of military-aged males is tracked over time and targeted for engaging in behavior that is deemed to be suspicious — are a particular concern, the report states. Additionally, the report blasts predatory partners the United States worked with in Afghanistan who could operate with near impunity due to their close and highly visible relationship to the US military.
Study authors make a slew of recommendations including the implementation of civilian protection cells that would monitor civilian harm and communicate with commanders to improve battlefield decision making.
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