According to the human rights group, Afghanistan Rights Monitor (ARM), Afghan civilian deaths in the conflict between international occupying forces and Taliban-led resistance fighters in 2008 were much higher than previously acknowledged by either the UN or NATO.
Almost 4,000 civilians were killed last year, according to the group, around 2,300 by fighters loyal to the Taliban, and over 1,500 were killed either by occupation forces or forces working for the USA-backed Karzai government.
The figures released by the independent Kabul-based group are far higher than those given by the United Nations, and several times higher than those maintained by NATO. ARM researcher and analyst Ajmal Samadi said that the data used in making the report was gathered using country-wide interviews with locals, officials and elders, and that this data was later double-checked in Kabul.
The ARM report, entitled “The Plight of Afghan Civilians” says that 3,917 civilians were killed last year, and that more than 6,800 were wounded. The report also said that around 120,000 civilians were forced to flee their homes due to conflict in their area, and that around two-thirds of these were displaced by international occupation forces.
Of those killed by the resistance, 930 civilians died in suicide bombings. A smaller number were also killed in public executions of suspected collaborators. The aim of such executions was to “spread terror among communities and establish a means of control,” the report said.
The report accuses all sides in the conflict of “repeated and systematic” violations of international humanitarian law, the Geneva Conventions and Afghanistan’s laws applicable to war situations.
“USA-led NATO and coalition forces also failed to ensure adequate safety and security for civilians in their counter-insurgency operations,” the rights group said. “Military operations conducted by these forces in 2008 caused at least 1,100 civilian deaths, 2,800 injuries and displaced from their homes around 80,000 people.”
Around 680 civilians were killed in air strikes by USA-led forces, it said, during at least 15,000 close air support missions throughout the year. Karzai government forces had meanwhile killed around 520 civilians, the report said.
The report, citing sources in the government, also gives figures for Karzai government forces killed over the year, showing that more than 1,100 police and 530 soldiers lost their lives.
The United Nations has much lower figures for civilian casualties in the Afghan conflict, which say that around 2,000 civilians were killed in 2008, more than half of them during Afghan resistance attacks, and the remainder in military action either by the occupiers or the Karzai government.
Amjal Samadi said that the UN’s research was hampered by its lack of access to all parts of the country because of poor security. NATO has said that it had mistakenly killed little over 200 civilians last year.
Human rights groups and officials have frequently warned that mounting civilian casualties, and the lack of acceptance of responsibility by USA-led forces for civilian security during the occupation, threatens public support for both occupying troops and the Karzai government.
Meanwhile, in an interview with Reuters, a former Taliban official said on Wednesday that the Taliban are fighting not to win power but to push foreign occupiers out of Afghanistan, and that USA President Obama will only make the country more unstable by sending more troops.
Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef, the former Taliban ambassador to Pakistan, said that there is already no justification for a foreign military presence in Afghanistan, and that sending more troops would only destabilise the country further, aggravate its neighbours and widen the war.
“It creates fear and anger in the region. There are countries in the region which have nuclear weapons and [more troops] creates fear and opposition between them,” Zaeef said.
The former ambassador said that the Taliban were not interested in returning to power. “The Taliban are not fighting for power, or to participate in government. Their target is for the foreign countries to withdraw from Afghanistan and leave,” he said.
USA President Obama is expected to approve plans to deploy up to 30,000 extra USA troops in Afghanistan to reinforce the 65,000 foreign troops already there. NATO commanders say their war aim is to weaken the resistance to a point where it can be brought to the table and a negotiated solution can be found. However, the Taliban have rejected direct negotiations while foreign troops remain in Afghanistan.
“They say it’s of no benefit because the decisions belong to foreigners, who are stronger here, and Afghanistan is practically occupied by Americans and foreigners,” Zaeef said.
Zaeef is one of a number of former Taliban officials who held a meeting with Karzai government officials in Saudi Arabia last October, in what has been seen as a first step toward exploring the possibility of meaningful peace talks.
“Maybe the government knows, maybe the Americans know, I think if the Taliban come to the negotiations, and the Americans accept that, and the government start negotiations with the Taliban, respectfully and honestly, this will be better for the people of Afghanistan. it will stop war in Afghanistan,” said Zaeef.