Are We in Afghanistan Because We’re in Afghanistan?

by: Charles V. Peña

On Sunday night, released more than 91,000 classified documents related to the war in Afghanistan. Among the revelations is that the Taliban appears to have used portable heat-seeking missiles (in military parlance, MANPADS or man-portable air-defense systems) to shoot down U.S. helicopters. The bitter irony is that these are likely the very same weapons the U.S. supplied to the Afghan mujahedeen in the 1980s to use against Soviet helicopters. Can you say, “blowback”? But as my friend and fellow columnist, Ivan Eland, points out, the leaked documents “didn’t reveal many new shocking truths about the U.S. military quagmire in Afghanistan. The facts on the ground have been well known publicly for some time – that the Taliban adversary is getting stronger and is being actively assisted by a faux ally (Pakistan) to whom the United States is shoveling billions, the Afghan government is corrupt, and the U.S. has killed civilians.”

While there may not be any new news, both WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and the office of Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai have stated that the most significant revelations in these documents concern the scale of civilian casualties. According to data [pdf] compiled by the United Nations Mission in Afghanistan (UNMA), pro-government forces (Afghan National Security Forces and international military forces) were responsible for 230 civilian deaths in 2006, 629 in 2007, 828 in 2008, and 596 in 2009. The good news is that the number of civilian deaths has gone down. Also, it’s important to know that anti-government forces accounted for nearly three times as many civilians killed (compared to 2007 when the ratio was almost 1-to-1 and 2008 when it was 1.4-to-1) – so the percentage of total civilian deaths attributed to pro-government forces is also less. The Afghanistan NGO (Non-Governmental Organization) Safety Office (ANSO) reports that in the first quarter of this year there were 496 civilian fatalities, 118 of which are attributed to international military forces. Both UNMA and ANSO data show [pdf] that airstrikes are largely responsible for civilian deaths caused by pro-government/international military forces.

The bad news is that civilians continue to be killed by U.S. and other friendly forces. Indeed, right on the heels of the leaked documents, Afghan President Hamid Karzai asserted that up to 52 civilians had been killed by NATO rocket fire in southern Afghanistan (of course, NATO has disputed the claim). But isn’t this war? Yes.

Continue reading article

Reposted from