The furore in Afghanistan over the latest NATO attack that killed four Afghans, including two women, has caught on with another round of protests being staged in Taloqan.
An earlier protest had led to the deaths of 12 people as the situation got out of control when security forces opened fire to stop almost 2,000 enraged protesters from looting and attacking a German base. Though there has been growing resentment against the foreign forces with every strike in which the civilians have been killed, the unusual thing about these protests is that these have taken place in the largely peaceful province of Takhar.
In addition, the Afghan government’s denial of the last NATO attack having been a joint operation has been challenged by the international security alliance. Kabul, of course, would not like to be associated with any operation that may trigger an anti-government drive at this point. President Hamid Karzai has been a vocal critic of the civilian killings at the hands of the International Security Assistance Forces (ISAF).
In fact, the Afghan leader has raised this issue at every forum, urging the need to avoid any civilian death for the implications for both Kabul and the allies’ war efforts. Despite the constant warnings, and the earlier military focus on avoiding civilian casualties, one finds a regression in practice. Over the past many months there has been an increase in civilian deaths.
The problem is bigger than just quelling an odd protest in one part or the other. With the war entering a decisive phase, the insurgents are also likely to exploit the public sentiments against the Coalition. An effective mobilisation against the foreign forces may prove highly detrimental for both the Coalition and the government. While military strategists and those on the battlefront are not incorrect in explaining the difficulty in avoiding civilian casualties, it does not justify the killings. Accepting Western forces who are largely viewed as occupying forces has been hard enough for the Afghans. On top they have to contend with the massacre of women and children and unarmed civilians in accidental fire or night strikes.
It is time that the coalition understand the necessity of separating short-term possible gains from firing wildly at presumed insurgents and relying more on human intelligence and planning operations against confirmed insurgent strongholds or hideouts.