Saturday, 20 November 2010

The Need for Civilian Protection in Afghanistan

NATO forces have increased significantly in Afghanistan in the past year. The counter-insurgency mantra of enhancing security for civilians as part of winning hearts and minds is a central part of discussion as leaders turn to Afghnaistan this morning.

However, a new report from Oxfam and 28 other aid organisations active in Afghnaistan shows that the goal of civilian protection is not being met. The report, Nowhere to Turn: The Failure to Protect Civilians in Afghanistan provides a sobering verdict on ISAF operations and the prospects for 'success' in Afghanistan (whatever that would look like). It says:

As the conflict continues to intensify, Afghans are increasingly caught between PGF seeking to win their "hearts and minds" and an insurgency that, in many areas, is utilizing increasingly violent tactics. Experience in Afghanistan has shown that when one party to a conflict makes the population the prize, the opposition is likely to make them a target. Building schools in highly insecure areas often turns them into targets for the insurgency; healthcare clinics are bombed, mined and occupied by both sides, including PGF who may be paradoxically engaged in building clinics in neighboring districts; and in the south and east, anyone associ-ated with the government or IMF is a target for assassination. Strategies to "protect the population" all too often do anything but.
This really matters as the COIN strategy considered so successful in Iraq (although that is debatable) is not working in Afghanistan, and the effects of failure are appalling for the Afghan people As NATO leaders try to find a way forward in Afghnaistan that doesn't look like failure for the Alliance and does at least something for the country itself, they should consider the recommendations of Oxfam and its partners who know the country so well:

The insurgency continues to grow, violence is spreading and some ana-lysts even fear a new civil war. Yet this failure to protect civilians from the escalating conflict, now and in coming months, is not inevitable. More can and must be done to minimize the harm to civilians, especially as ISAF begins to handover responsibility for security to the Afghan gov-ernment.



• Issue a directive outlining procedures to provide redress to those civilians affected in the course of military operations. Work with the Afghan government to effectively and transparently investi-gate civilian casualties.

• Allegations of both past and present criminal acts and violations of international law must result in meaningful investigations, prosecution and disciplinary procedures.

• Avoid night raids if at all possible and utilize regular law en-forcement measures instead.

• Terminate implementation of ALP and other community defense initiatives. Instead, devote greater resources to the development of a professional and accountable ANP.

• Actively promote, support and monitor all the measures that the Afghan authorities need to take to ensure lawful conduct by ANSF, and ensure that respect for rights is an integral part of training and advice given to ANSF.

• Ensure that all soldiers are familiar with and trained in the Civil Military Guidelines for Afghanistan and adhere to them through-out their deployment.


• Increase the capacity to report and follow up on civilian casualty incidents, allegations of harm to civilians and human rights viola-tions.

• Allegations of both past and present criminal acts and violations of international law by ANSF must be taken seriously and result in meaningful investigations and disciplinary measures.

To the Afghan Government:

• Establish a civilian casualty tracking unit, which would regularly investigate allegations of harm and make its procedures public, as well as the findings of investigations.

• Reform Code 99 to address corruption and ensure greater trans-parency and consistency, including measures to improve access to the fund by those that have been harmed by AOG.

• In addition, a clear procedure should be established for ensuring ANSF adhere to or at least behave in a way that is consistent with the existing ISAF compensation guidelines.

• Terminate implementation of ALP and other community defense initiatives. If they must move forward, establish an independent monitoring mechanism for community defense initiatives. Con-duct an audit, the results of which should be made public, to as-certain the impact and status of past community defense initia-tives.

To the International Community:

• The UN, through OCHA, should immediately seek to establish re-lationships with ANSF and IMF at appropriate levels to ensure that there are mechanisms in place to investigate and address in-cidents of IHL violations.

• The UN, through OCHA, should fulfil its commitment to imple-ment a full, effective training and awareness-raising programme for all relevant actors on the Afghanistan Civil-Military Guide-lines, as well as a system for monitoring breaches of the guide-lines.

• The lead nations of Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs) should establish and implement a plan to gradually phase out PRT-provided assistance and other militarized forms of aid. This transition strategy should prioritize an increase in funding and support for national and international civilian organizations.


• Minimize harm to civilians and damage to their property in the conduct of all operations and prioritize the protection of civilians. Take all feasible measures to distinguish between civilians and combatants, and avoid using disproportionate force.

• Seek to limit the adverse impact of military operations on aid ag-encies, their staff and operations.

• Ensuring that operations do not lead to forced displacement or the denial of the right of freedom of movement and other rights of displaced Afghans.

• Improve efforts to investigate, recognize and address allegations of harm to civilians caused by AOG operations.

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