Last night on the O’Reilly Factor, host Bill O’Reilly blasted Afghan President Hamid Karzai for appealing to U.S. forces to do more to limit civilian casualties in Afghanistan. O’Reilly chastised Karzai, calling his appeal “insulting” and suggesting that Afghans are ungrateful for the support they receive from U.S. and NATO forces:
OREILLY: U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan are risking their lives to protect the Afghan people from the Taliban and al Qaeda. But President Karzai does not seem to get that. Once again, he has condemned American forces after a raid killed some civilians.
In that raid, a top Taliban commander and some of his cronies were also killed, but apparently, Karzai doesn’t understand that in war, collateral damage is constantly present. U.S. military is investigating the situation, but Check believes Karzai is making a political grandstand play, and it is insulting. Without us, his head is on a stick.
O’Reilly was referring to a recent air strike that the U.S. military claims killed 15 Taliban fighters, but that Karzai claims killed 16 civilians. While the investigation is ongoing, O’Reilly’s blanket condemnation of Karzai’s concern for civilian deaths misses the broader point: American success in Afghanistan depends on reducing civilian casualties there.
U.S. and NATO forces are increasingly reliant on air strikes to prosecute its counterinsurgency objectives in Afghanistan. As Human Rights Watch explained, “There has been a massive and unprecedented surge in the use of air power in Afghanistan in 2008,” resulting in higher civilian death rates. According to the latest U.N. figures, foreign forces in Afghanistan were responsible for the deaths of 577 civilians in 2008 “including 395 deaths caused by airstrikes” — a 40 percent increase over the previous year.
This increase in civilian casualties has “dramatically decreased public support for the Afghan government and the presence of international forces.” As Defense Secretary Robert Gates put it to the congressional testimony today, “civilian casualties are doing [U.S. interests] enormous harm in Afghanistan“:
I will tell you that I believe the civilian casualties are doing us enormous harm in Afghanistan. And we have got to do better in terms of avoiding casualties. I say that knowing full well the Taliban mingle among the people, use them as barriers, but when we go ahead and attack, we play right into their hands. … My worry is that the Afghans come to see us as part of the problem rather than part of their solution and then we are lost.
Ignoring the increasing levels of “collateral damage” — as O’Reilly appears to recommend — is not only unethical, it would further empower the very forces that U.S. and NATO forces are attempting to defeat.