Tag Archives: nato

McCrystal, Petraeus and Allen and the Tragedies in Afghanistan

The senior allied commander in Afghanistan has ordered new restrictions on airstrikes against Taliban fighters who hide in residential homes, coalition officials said Sunday (June 10, 2012), a move in response to a NATO attack in the eastern part of the country last week that Afghan officials say killed 18 civilians….Officials said the directive from Gen. John R. Allen, the commander for international and United States forces in Afghanistan, underscores NATO’s existing commitment to protecting civilians…On Sunday, however, American officials said General Allen’s order did not necessarily go that far and sought to describe it in more nuanced terms, saying that NATO would continue to conduct operations against insurgents who use civilian dwellings for shelter.  “When there is concern over the presence of civilians, air-delivered munitions will not be employed [ONLY] while other means are available,” said a senior United States defense official who was not authorized to speak publicly on the policy deliberations.  Militants often hide in civilian homes, so a complete ban on airstrikes could hinder the ability of American forces to pursue the Taliban. General Allen’s order does not affect ground operations against insurgents. An agreement between the two countries in April gave lead authority for night raids to the Afghans, although missions are to be conducted jointly and targets selected by consensus. Allied officials still retain control over dropping bombs in these operations, and Afghan officials say they were not involved in the decision to carry out the fatal airstrike last week.

The joint Afghan-NATO raid last week was hunting a Taliban commander and some of his fighters who had holed up in a home in Logar Province where a wedding had taken place, according to local residents. An early-morning firefight broke out between the coalition troops and the insurgents, with the civilians trapped inside. The coalition decided to call in an airstrike, which killed the insurgents but also 18 civilians, including 9 children, Afghan officials said.   On Friday, General Allen apologized for the civilian deaths and took the unusual step of meeting with the relatives of some of those killed……

General Allen’s directive comes nearly two years after Gen. David H. Petraeus, upon assuming command of international forces in Afghanistan, issued new guidelines on the use of force in Afghanistan that expanded restrictions on artillery strikes and aerial bombardment, but clarified that troops had the right to self-defense.  Troops widely complained that restrictions put in place by General Petraeus’s predecessor, Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, exposed them to excessive risk by tying their hands when they sought to attack people suspected of being militants or destroy buildings used to harbor insurgents.  But General McChrystal’s rules were popular with Afghan officials, including President Karzai, and human rights advocates, who said the restrictions had significantly reduced Afghan civilian deaths.

On Sunday (June 10, 2012), human rights advocates expressed wariness about whether General Allen’s orders would have an immediate impact. “We’ve seen improvements in detention-related abuses and excessive force at checkpoints, but when it comes to civilian casualties, we’re still seeing tragic incidents, even today,” said John Sifton, Human Rights Watch’s advocacy director for Asia.

ERIC SCHMITT, Allies Restrict Airstrikes on Taliban in Civilian Homes, NY Times, June 10, 2012

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On Tuesday June 12, 2012, NATO said that Allen had issued an order telling U.S. and coalition forces “that no aerial munitions be delivered against civilian dwellings.”But the statement also contained this caveat: “As always, Afghan and coalition forces retain the inherent right to use aerial munitions in self-defense if no other options are available.”

At a Pentagon news conference on Tuesday, officials repeated the policy outlined by Allen but denied it differed greatly from Karzai’s.-

NATO Claims Right to Impunity for Civilian Deaths in Libya

NATO’s seven-month air campaign in Libya, hailed by the alliance and many Libyans for blunting a lethal crackdown by Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi and helping to push him from power, came with an unrecognized toll: scores of civilian casualties the alliance has long refused to acknowledge or investigate.  By NATO’s telling during the war, and in statements since sorties ended on Oct. 31, the alliance-led operation was nearly flawless — a model air war that used high technology, meticulous planning and restraint to protect civilians from Colonel Qaddafi’s troops, which was the alliance’s mandate.  “We have carried out this operation very carefully, without confirmed civilian casualties,” the secretary general of NATO, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, said in November.

But an on-the-ground examination by The New York Times of airstrike sites across Libya — including interviews with survivors, doctors and witnesses, and the collection of munitions remnants, medical reports, death certificates and photographs — found credible accounts of dozens of civilians killed by NATO in many distinct attacks. The victims, including at least 29 women or children, often had been asleep in homes when the ordnance hit.  In all, at least 40 civilians, and perhaps more than 70, were killed by NATO at these sites, available evidence suggests. While that total is not high compared with other conflicts in which Western powers have relied heavily on air power, and less than the exaggerated accounts circulated by the Qaddafi government, it is also not a complete accounting. Survivors and doctors working for the anti-Qaddafi interim authorities point to dozens more civilians wounded in these and other strikes, and they referred reporters to other sites where civilian casualties were suspected.  Two weeks after being provided a 27-page memorandum from The Times containing extensive details of nine separate attacks in which evidence indicated that allied planes had killed or wounded unintended victims, NATO modified its stance.  “From what you have gathered on the ground, it appears that innocent civilians may have been killed or injured, despite all the care and precision,” said Oana Lungescu, a spokeswoman for NATO headquarters in Brussels. “We deeply regret any loss of life.”  She added that NATO was in regular contact with the new Libyan government and that “we stand ready to work with the Libyan authorities to do what they feel is right.”

NATO, however, deferred the responsibility of initiating any inquiry to Libya’s interim authorities, whose survival and climb to power were made possible largely by the airstrike campaign. So far, Libyan leaders have expressed no interest in examining NATO’s mistakes.  The failure to thoroughly assess the civilian toll reduces the chances that allied forces, which are relying ever more heavily on air power rather than risking ground troops in overseas conflicts, will examine their Libyan experience to minimize collateral deaths elsewhere. Allied commanders have been ordered to submit a lessons-learned report to NATO headquarters in February. NATO’s incuriosity about the many lethal accidents raises questions about how thorough that review will be.  NATO’s experience in Libya also reveals an attitude that initially prevailed in Afghanistan. There, NATO forces, led by the United States, tightened the rules of engagement for airstrikes and insisted on better targeting to reduce civilian deaths only after repeatedly ignoring or disputing accounts of airstrikes that left many civilians dead.  In Libya, NATO’s inattention to its unintended victims has also left many wounded civilians with little aid in the aftermath of the country’s still-chaotic change in leadership.  These victims include a boy blasted by debris in his face and right eye, a woman whose left leg was amputated, another whose foot and leg wounds left her disabled, a North Korean doctor whose left foot was crushed and his wife, who suffered a fractured skull.  The Times’s investigation included visits to more than 25 sites, including in Tripoli, Surman, Mizdah, Zlitan, Ga’a, Majer, Ajdabiya, Misurata, Surt, Brega and Sabratha and near Benghazi. More than 150 targets — bunkers, buildings or vehicles — were hit at these places.

NATO warplanes flew thousands of sorties that dropped 7,700 bombs or missiles; because The Times did not examine sites in several cities and towns where the air campaign was active, the casualty estimate could be low.  There are indications that the alliance took many steps to avoid harming civilians, and often did not damage civilian infrastructure useful to Colonel Qaddafi’s military. Elements of two American-led air campaigns in Iraq, in 1991 and 2003, appear to have been avoided, including attacks on electrical grids.  Such steps spared civilians certain hardships and risks that accompanied previous Western air-to-ground operations. NATO also said that allied forces did not use cluster munitions or ordnance containing depleted uranium, both of which pose health and environmental risks, in Libya at any time.  The alliance’s fixed-wing aircraft dropped only laser- or satellite-guided weapons, said Col. Gregory Julian, a NATO spokesman; no so-called dumb bombs were used.

While the overwhelming preponderance of strikes seemed to have hit their targets without killing noncombatants, many factors contributed to a run of fatal mistakes. These included a technically faulty bomb, poor or dated intelligence and the near absence of experienced military personnel on the ground who could help direct airstrikes.   The alliance’s apparent presumption that residences thought to harbor pro-Qaddafi forces were not occupied by civilians repeatedly proved mistaken, the evidence suggests, posing a reminder to advocates of air power that no war is cost- or error-free.  The investigation also found significant damage to civilian infrastructure from certain attacks for which a rationale was not evident or risks to civilians were clear. These included strikes on warehouses that current anti-Qaddafi guards said contained only food, or near businesses or homes that were destroyed, including an attack on a munitions bunker beside a neighborhood that caused a large secondary explosion, scattering warheads and toxic rocket fuel.

NATO has also not yet provided data to Libyans on the locations or types of unexploded ordnance from its strikes. At least two large weapons were present at sites visited by The Times. “This information is urgently needed,” said Dr. Ali Yahwya, chief surgeon at the Zlitan hospital.  Moreover, the scouring of one strike site found remnants of NATO munitions in a ruined building that an alliance spokesman explicitly said NATO did not attack.  That mistake — a pair of strikes — killed 12 anti-Qaddafi fighters and nearly killed a civilian ambulance crew aiding wounded men. It underscored NATO’s sometimes tenuous grasp of battle lines and raised questions about the forthrightness and accuracy of the alliance’s public-relations campaign.  The second strike pointed to a tactic that survivors at several sites recounted: warplanes restriking targets minutes after a first attack, a practice that imperiled, and sometimes killed, civilians rushing to the wounded.

Pressed about the dangers posed to noncombatants by such attacks, NATO said it would reconsider the tactic’s rationale in its internal campaign review. “That’s a valid point to take into consideration in future operations,” Colonel Julian said.  That statement is a shift in the alliance’s stance. NATO’s response to allegations of mistaken attacks had long been carefully worded denials and insistence that its operations were devised and supervised with exceptional care. Faced with credible allegations that it killed civilians, the alliance said it had neither the capacity for nor intention of investigating and often repeated that disputed strikes were sound.

The alliance maintained this position even after two independent Western organizations — Human Rights Watch and the Campaign for Innocent Victims in Conflict, or Civic — met privately with NATO officials and shared field research about mistakes, including, in some cases, victims’ names and the dates and locations where they died.  Organizations researching civilian deaths in Libya said that the alliance’s resistance to making itself accountable and acknowledging mistakes amounted to poor public policy. “It’s crystal clear that civilians died in NATO strikes,” said Fred Abrahams, a researcher for Human Rights Watch. “But this whole campaign is shrouded by an atmosphere of impunity” and by NATO’s and the Libyan authorities’ mutually congratulatory statements.

Excerpt,-

NATO Counts the Costs, Libya Counts the Bodies: numbers in dispute means no blame

As the dust settles on Nato’s seven-month mission over Libya, there are few reliable statistics.  No-one is really sure, at least for now, how much this war has cost in human lives.  Estimates of those killed – including pro-Gaddafi forces, “rebel” forces and civilians – currently vary between 2,000 and 30,000.  Given that the United Nations’ mandate for the mission over Libya was to “protect civilians”, the Nato alliance has always maintained that it took every precaution to avoid such casualties.  nThe alliance says precautions often included round-the-clock surveillance from the air to establish “patterns of life” to ensure that civilians would not be hit.

On a number of occasions, planned air strikes were called off at the last minute because of fears that civilians could be hidden among legitimate military targets.To avoid undermining the mission, the alliance also relied heavily on “precision” weapons – bombs and missiles with “low collateral damage” guided by either laser or GPS systems.  The RAF’s Chief of the Air Staff, Sir Stephen Dalton, told MPs last week that these weapons “performed well above the predicted level”. In one example, more than 98% of Brimstone missiles fired by RAF warplanes directly hit their target. The few that did not, still landed within a few yards.  Nato carried out nearly 10,000 strike sorties during its seven-month mission in Libya  But Nato did NOT ONLY-

More than a Tally: Afghanistan

A Civilian population lost between the night raids, drone strikes, suicide bombings and targeted killings….Report from Reuters

In 2010, violence across Afghanistan was its worst since the Taliban were ousted by U.S.-backed Afghan forces in late 2001, with civilian and military casualties at record levels.  A total of 711 foreign troops were killed in 2010, the deadliest year of the war for the coalition, and at least 340 have been killed so far this year, according to independent monitor http://www.icasualties.org and figures kept by Reuters.  U.S. and European military commanders have claimed significant success against Taliban insurgents in the south over the past 18 months, mainly with the help of an additional 30,000 U.S. troops deployed in the Taliban’s southern heartland to fight a growing insurgency.

However the Taliban and other insurgents have shown an alarming ability to adapt their tactics and shift the focus of their attacks out of the south into the east and the once relatively peaceful north and west….There has been a series of high-profile attacks and assassinations in the north in the past couple of years as insurgents seek to demonstrate their reach beyond their traditional southern heartland.  The police chief of north Afghanistan, General Dawood Dawood, was assassinated in late May by a massive bomb in Takhar province that also killed the Takhar police chief.  In June, a suicide bomber killed at least four policemen at a memorial service for Dawood in Kunduz. The attack appeared to target the police chief of Kunduz province, Sameullah Qatra, whose predecessor was killed by a suicide bomber in March.

NATO soldiers killed as Afghan violence flares, Reuters, Aug. 4, 2011

The Handover: Haqqani, bunkers, caves, raids, Afghanistan

At least 80 militants were killed in a series of operations involving Afghan and NATO forces during a day-long firefight last week in the country’s restive southeast, Paktika provincial governor Mukhlas Afghan said Sunday. NATO said it could only confirm 50 insurgents were killed in the fight.  The operation, which began Wednesday and spanned the night into Thursday, was fought in a “known Haqqani network” area.  The Haqqani network is an insurgent group loosely affiliated with the Taliban and is believed to be based in Pakistan’s frontier territories.  The raid included Afghan special forces and engaged “multiple groups of insurgents” who were armed with rocket-propelled grenade launchers and heavy machine guns, NATO’s International Security Assistance Force reported Friday.

Multiple insurgent groups were holed up in areas that included caves and fortified bunker positions, ISAF said.  Elsewhere, coalition raids on Sunday in Helmand province left five militants dead, including three Taliban commanders, according to provincial governor Dawood Ahmadi. Three others were captured, he said.  Sunday’s announcement coincides with formal ceremonies marking the handover of security to Afghan forces in parts of Kabul and Panjshir province.  They are the fifth and sixth areas to be transferred to national forces.

David Ariosto, Gunbattle in Afghanistan leaves 80 militants dead, governor saysBy,CNN, July 24, 2011

Osama is Dead but Afghanistan Escapes

It was, said the president’s spokesman, a “disaster”. Some 500 prisoners, mostly Taliban fighters, had escaped in the early hours of April 25th from a prison holding insurgents in southern Afghanistan.  The caper involved an 18-man crew working from outside the prison undetected for five months. They dug a tunnel some 320 metres (1,050 feet) long into the heart of the Kandahar jail. The tunnellers started their work from a compound that housed a construction company. They deftly concealed the excavated soil. They put in metal beams to support the tunnel as it ran under one of the country’s main highways, and they installed lighting and ventilation.

As well as flaunting the Taliban’s ability to pull off remarkable stunts, the episode also exposed, yet again, the feebleness of Afghan security forces. The Afghan army and police are meant to take over the handling of the country’s security from the Western-led international coalition by the end of 2014. The president, Hamid Karzai, joined the chorus of people claiming that the escapees must have got inside help from prison guards. Insurgent infiltration of the security forces is a subject of mounting concern. A series of deadly attacks have taken place, especially against coalition forces, by men in Afghan uniforms. The latest came on April 27th, in Kabul, when an Afghan pilot killed eight American soldiers and a civilian contractor. It is unclear whether the pilot, who was killed, had Taliban sympathies.

Yet others, including one of the Taliban escapees, gainsay the idea that the breakout had inside assistance. Contacted by telephone soon afterwards, the 28-year-old said there was no need to infiltrate the guards. They were, he said, all stoned. He said it was normal for them to get high on marijuana or heroin and then turn in for a good night’s sleep. The guards realised only hours later that their charges had escaped. The contrast between Afghan government hopelessness and insurgent craftiness could hardly have been more stark. The Taliban were quick to follow up the escape with an information campaign, putting out a press release in perfect English that crowed about their success.

Excerpt: Afghanistan security: Break for the hills, Economist, April 30, 2011, at 45

Libyan War and Civilian Casualties: rebels v. Gaddafi mercenaries

The complexities of the Libyan war were driven home to Western powers on Thursday (31 March) as Nato warned rebels not to kill civilians while itself facing charges of killing civilians in an airstrike.  Nato has pledged to investigate claims that a Western airstrike caused 40 civilian casualties in the Libyan capital, as reported by a Catholic news agency, Fides, quoting the Vatican’s envoy to Tripoli, Giovanni Innocenzo Martinelli.

Nato is to investigate whether one of the Western strikes caused civilian deaths.”I am aware of this news report,” Nato commander Charles Bouchard said during a video-conference from Naples with the Brussels press corps. “I take every one of those issues seriously, but our mission began today,” he noted, hours after the military alliance took over command from a British, French and US-led coalition. Civilian casualties are already a big problem for Nato in Afghanistan. But Bouchard insisted that rules of engagement are strict and that targets are selected carefully.

Highlighting Nato’s task of backing armed rebels who may themselves be targeting civilians, Bouchard said: “I would like to offer closing thoughts for those who are acting against civilian populations in civilian centres: you would be ill-advised to continue such activities. I recommend that you cease these activities.”

Nato spokeswoman Oana Lungescu added that the UN-backed mandate of operation Unified Protector to protect civilian lives “applies to both sides.” “Whoever targets, risks becoming a target. We will apply the mandate across the board,” she said. Rebels have received similar warnings from Washington.  “We’ve been conveying a message to the rebels that we will be compelled to defend civilians, whether pro-Gaddafi or pro-opposition,” a senior Obama administration official told the New York Times. “We are working very hard behind the scenes with the rebels so we don’t confront a situation where we face a decision to strike the rebels to defend civilians.”

Early accounts of the fighting indicate that rebels targeted sub-Saharan Africans generally labelled as ‘Gaddafi mercenaries.’  The BBC on 25 February cited a Turkish construction worker as saying: “We had 70-80 people from Chad working for our company. They were cut dead with pruning shears and axes, attackers saying: ‘You are providing troops for Gaddafi.’ The Sudanese were also massacred. We saw it for ourselves.”

For his part, Nato secretary general Anders Fogh Rasmussen said in Stockholm on Thursday that the alliance has not taken any decision on arming rebels.  “As far as Nato is concerned, we will fully implement the UN Security Council resolution which requests the enforcement of the arms embargo, and the purpose of the arms embargo is to stop the flow of weapons into Libya,” Rasmussen said. “We are there to protect the Libyan people, not to arm them.”

Earlier this week, Britain and the US said the UN resolutions allow arms transfers to rebels despite an arms ban on Gaddafi. The issue is contested in other capitals, however. Belgium on Wednesday warned that the move could alienate Arab nations, while Danish foreign minister Lene Espersen said her country, which is also part of Unified Protector, would be against it as well.

VALENTINA POP, Nato frets over civilian casualties in Libya, Euroobserver.com, April 1, 2011