Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Deadly Protest in Afghanistan Highlights Tensions

Dexter Filkins reports in the NYT.  This development happens to coincide with the publication of a UN report that claims that over the last year the Taliban were responsible for more civilian casualties than were US+NATO+Afghan forces.
The 1,630 civilians killed by insurgents represented a 40 percent increase over the previous year — and two-thirds of the civilians killed. Most of those civilian deaths, the survey found, were caused by suicide bombings, homemade bombs and executions.

By contrast, the number of civilians killed by the American-led coalition and Afghan government forces in 2009 fell 28 percent. The coalition and Afghan forces killed 596 civilians, about a quarter of the total number killed that year.

The United Nations report said that 2,412 civilians were killed in 2009, a jump of 14 percent over the previous year. Another 3,566 Afghan civilians were wounded, the report found.

The growing number of civilian deaths reflects the intensification of the Afghan war over the same period: American and NATO combat deaths jumped to 520 over the past year, from 295, and the Taliban are more active than at any point in the past eight years.

These reports taken together surely provide lots of food for thought, but I'm especially struck by
 (1) the total of dead and wounded (i.e., in many cases, maimed; ergo, lives ruined) among the civilian population.  We need to multiply that by some significant factor, of course, to calculate the number of Afghan civilian lives affected.
(2) As the account of the protest suggests, the US forces in Afghanistan - whatever the motives and intentions claimed by their military and civilian leaders -- are fighting a losing battle in terms of public trust and public perception.  The distrust is deeply seated, culturally rooted - and there is no way that it can be turned around within the kind of timeframe that Obama ostensibly established for this mission.  That does not inspire much hope for a "happy ending," much less, "victory."

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