The revelation by the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) that American-backed government forces have killed more civilians in the first three months of 2019 than the armed opposition is indicative of how finely balanced the conflict has become in the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. The formerly insurgent Taliban, which is once again emphasising its self-styled status as the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, now controls large swathes of territory and is consolidating that control by eliminating its would-be rivals, including the upstart Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant – Khorasan Province.
According to the quarterly report by UNAMA, units belonging to the United States-led Resolute Support Mission and it local allies were responsible for the deaths of 305 civilians between January and the end of March. In contrast 227 civilians were killed by the Islamic Emirate and other insurgent/terrorist groupings, while 49 deaths were unattributed, mainly occurring during violent protests, confrontations or in crossfire. Despite these significant casualty figures, a spokesperson for the US military was quite dismissive of the concerns expressed by the UN and others.
“We reserve the right of self-defense of our forces as well as the Afghan Security Forces. The best way to end the suffering of non-combatants is to end the fighting through an agreed-upon reduction in violence on all sides.”
Which brings to mind the infamous statement by a British government minister during the twilight years of the Troubles or conflict in the north of Ireland, when he blamed the Irish Republican Army for the likelihood of civilian casualties during guerrilla attacks and not the British Army’s rapidly expanding use of human shields to protect its troops.
Meanwhile, the United States has taken further steps to hide the number of non-combatant deaths inflicted in its military drone strikes around the globe, with Donald Trump ordering an end to the publication of an annual report on these operations which was implemented by Barack Obama during his presidency. Which brings to the fore an important point often obscured in the discussion of the use of drones by nation-states like the United States, the United Kingdom and others.
When it comes to drone strikes, the U.S. government classifies all “military-aged males” as militants unless posthumous evidence explicitly proves otherwise. Essentially, this assumes that any man (or boy) in the vicinity of a known terrorist who appears to be between the ages of 14 and 60 is also a terrorist.
Which accounts for the ridiculously low casualty figures admitted for non-combatant deaths by the Pentagon and the ridiculously high figures claimed for enemy combatant deaths (which may average out as many as five civilians killed for every suspected terrorist assassinated in targeted operations by US forces and agencies over the last two decades).