On ‘Killing Civilians’ And Effective Counterinsurgency

afghanistan.jpgBack in August 2007, Barack Obama said this about his plan to strengthen the U.S.’s failing effort in Afghanistan:

We’ve got to get the job done there [in Afghanistan] and that requires us to have enough troops so that we’re not just air-raiding villages and killing civilians, which is causing enormous problems there.

Sen. Obama’s comments came in the context of mounting Afghan protests at the civilian casualties caused by U.S.-led operations there. Afghan President Hamid Karzai made this case again at the United Nations last month:

The death of innocent Afghan civilians in foreign bombing raids could seriously undermine the efforts to fight terrorism, Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai told the UN General Assembly Wednesday.

The deaths hurt “the credibility of the Afghan people’s partnership with the international community,” Karzai said.

An Associated Press fact check stated that Western forces in Afghanistan have been killing civilians at a faster rate than the insurgents have been killing civilians, noting that as of Aug. 1, “while militants killed 231 civilians in attacks in 2007, Western forces killed 286.” This is, in fact, causing enormous problems there.

Minimizing civilian casualties is key to a successful counterinsurgency effort, which is one reason air strikes — which tend to result in a lot of collateral damage i.e. dead civilians — are poorly suited to counterinsurgency. Currently, the U.S.-led effort in Afghanistan has been forced to over-rely on air power because of the commitment of troops and resources to Iraq.

As discussed in the Center for American Progress report The Forgotten Front, this is yet another example of how the Iraq war has undercut the U.S.’s ability to effectively fight terrorism.