By Jonathon Burch
Fri Nov 19, 2010
NATO allies must do more to protect civilians as Afghan forces start to take over from foreign troops, with security rapidly deteriorating for most Afghans and violence set to increase in 2011, aid groups said on Friday.
A dramatic increase in the use of air strikes in recent months, primarily by the U.S. military, also threatened to reverse a reduction in the number of civilian deaths by foreign forces since 2008, the groups said.
The aid groups said in a report Western donors were under pressure to show fast results at home and were pushing a military strategy increasingly reliant on “quick fixes”, which could also have devastating consequences for Afghan civilians.
The report by British charity Oxfam and about 30 foreign and Afghan agencies was released to coincide with a NATO summit in Lisbon from Friday, where leaders will flesh out plans to start handing security responsibility to Afghans from next year.
“Security for the vast majority of Afghans is rapidly deteriorating. It is likely that increased violence in 2011 will lead to more civilian casualties,” the report said.
NATO allies have said they will start transferring security of some parts of Afghanistan from next year as part of an ambitious Kabul strategy to assume full responsibility in 2014.
The alliance’s top civilian envoy to Afghanistan said on Wednesday foreign troops may still be leading operations in some areas after then because of poor security.
U.S. Defence Secretary Robert Gates and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have called the 2014 date realistic but critics say slow progress in ramping up Afghanistan’s army and police force will make that target difficult.
Not only were there serious questions about the capability of Afghan forces to act independently, Friday’s report said, civilians were at risk of being extorted, tortured or indiscriminately killed unless NATO forces stepped in.
“NATO member states, who train, advise, fund, and arm those forces, share responsibility for making sure this does not happen, but so far we have seen little action on the ground,” the report’s author, Ashley Jackson, said in a separate statement.
Violence in Afghanistan is at its worst since the Taliban were overthrown in late 2001, with record casualties on all sides of the conflict.
But it is ordinary Afghans who have borne the brunt of the fighting as they get caught up in the crossfire.
During the first six months of this year, 1,271 civilians were killed, according to U.N. figures, a 21 percent jump on the same period last year. Overall casualties, including those wounded in attacks, rose by 31 percent.
More than three-quarters were blamed on insurgents.
While civilian casualties caused by foreign and Afghan forces had decreased over the past two years — mainly due to a fall in air strikes — an increase in the use of air power in recent months risked reversing those gains, the report said. U.S. forces had dropped 2,100 bombs or missiles from June through September, almost 50 percent more than the same period last year, the report said.
Civilian deaths caused by foreign and Afghan troops in October had also increased by 11 percent on the same month last year, it said, citing foreign military figures.
The report also said Western nations with troops in Afghanistan were increasingly relying on so called “quick fixes”, such as creating local militias and focusing on increasing the size of Afghan security forces instead of improving their overall operational capacity and accountability.
(Editing by Paul Tait and Sugita Katyal)