Julius Cavendish: Whether or not a 'kill squad' is to blame, civilian deaths often go unreported

Share
Related Topics

Civilians have long borne the brunt of the fighting in Afghanistan, though incidents where they have been deliberately targeted by Nato troops are rare.

The fact that the murders allegedly committed by the "kill squad" came to light precisely because the US military had launched its own investigation – which was picked up by the press not in Afghanistan, but in the US, where the courts martial were to take place – show that the way it self-regulates and disciplines its personnel can work at critical junctures.

Where the coalition finds itself in hot water far more frequently is on the issue of civilian casualties caused accidentally. The UN calculated that Nato was responsible for 440 civilian deaths last year but many Afghans find that hard to believe.

Even US General Stanley McChrystal, when he was still the top Nato commander in Afghanistan, said with some exasperation that "an amazing number of people" had been shot who were not a threat. The perception at any rate is that many deaths go unreported – something that Taliban propagandists assiduously exploit.

The reason for this is simple. After each engagement, Nato troops are expected to submit a battle damage assessment, reporting what injuries they may have caused to insurgents or civilians and their property. At times this is relatively straightforward. But if the incident in question was a running gun-battle over several hours with artillery and aircraft in support, no one is going to spend time deep in Taliban country trying to collect the requisite evidence to form a forensic account of what just happened.

To do so would often be to invite another battle.

The difficulty of determining exactly what went on in the heat of battle is no solace for the civilians trapped in the middle whose suffering in terms of numbers killed has grown worse each year since 2001.

"People tell us that they are caught in the middle of the conflict and they don't know which way to turn," said Reto Stocker, of the International Committee of the Red Cross. "It is an untenable situation. Civilians must be protected from harm as much as possible, not become victims of the fighting."

Another pitfall for Nato when it comes to properly accounting for the civilian deaths its troops may have caused is the role of its special forces, whose very secrecy – essential to many of their missions – undermines the transparency necessary for a proper investigation.

Last year the US military was forced into an embarrassing turnabout after a special forces team gunned down an Afghan police chief, a prosecutor and three unarmed women, infuriating locals and drawing a sharp rebuke from Kabul.

It was only two months later that it finally apologised for the botched raid, but not before attempting to smear the journalist who had investigated it.

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Photographer / Floorplanner / Domestic Energy Assessor

£16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Photographer/ Floor planner /...

Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer - Surrey - £40,000

£30000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer - Guildford/Craw...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Assistant

£13500 - £15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Customer Service Assistant is...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £35,000

£16000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An ambitious and motivated Sale...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Letter from the Whitehall Editor: The spurious Tory endorsement that misfired

Oliver Wright
 

General Election 2015: Ed Miliband hasn’t ‘suddenly’ become a robust leader. He always was

Steve Richards
Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence