The Washington Post

Afghan forces handle civilian casualties poorly, report claims

An Afghan police officer stands guard at a check point in Kabul, Afghanistan. A new report released on Monday accuses Afghanistan’s army and police of failing to address civilian casualties. (Musadeq Sadeq/AP)

A report released Monday accuses Afghanistan’s army and police of failing to address civilian casualties as the country’s newly built forces assume responsibility for security during NATO’s military withdrawal.

The Center for Civilians in Conflict, a Washington-based research organization, said in its report that “the capacity of the Afghan government and security forces to prevent and respond appropriately to civilian casualties is woefully underdeveloped.”

The killing of civilians in Afghanistan has been a long-standing source of tension between U.S. military leaders and Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who has complained that foreign troops don’t take sufficient precautions to prevent collateral damage.

According to the United Nations, civilian casualties caused by the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) have declined over the past two years. While historically Afghan forces have caused fewer casualties than the ISAF, the report suggests that as Afghan soldiers and police take control of the country’s security, they will “likely cause increased civilian casualties as they conduct more combat operations on their own.”

The report also alleges that Afghan institutions have often failed to award condolence payments to victims’ families or to properly investigate incidents in which civilians were harmed.

Aimal Faizi, a spokesman for Karzai, said Afghanistan’s military lacks the air force and weaponry that typically cause large-scale civilian casualties. When Afghan forces do cause civilian casualties, he said, the government acts promptly.

“When there are such cases, it’s our responsibility to provide help to the families of the victims. We are doing that,” he said.

But the report contends that “assistance from the Afghan government is rarely offered to civilians harmed by the ANSF,” or Afghan National Security Forces.

Although each branch of the 352,000-strong Afghan security forces has a protocol used to handle civilian casualties, the report, which cites a number of examples, says those policies are poorly implemented.

“Urgent reforms are needed to ensure a more effective and comprehensive Afghan response to civilian harm,” the report says.

Kevin Sieff has been The Post’s bureau chief in Nairobi since 2014. He served previously as the bureau chief in Kabul and had covered the U.S. -Mexico border.

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