Afghanistan: Call for NATO accountability on civilian deaths after Wikileaks publication

Amnesty International is calling on NATO to provide a clear, unified system of accounting for civilian casualties in Afghanistan, as leaked war logs paint a picture of an incoherent process of dealing with civilian casualties.

Around 92,000 leaked US military files on the war in Afghanistan covering the period 2004-2009 were released Sunday by the website Wikileaks.  

Amnesty International Asia-Pacific Director Sam Zarifi said

“The picture that emerges from the leaked data on civilian casualties is that NATO’s leadership did not know exactly what was happening on the ground.

“The military logs bear out Amnesty International’s longstanding concerns that there is no coherent or consistent system for accounting for civilian casualties.”

The leaked records support Amnesty’s concerns about improper reporting of civilian casualties, a lack of investigations into casualties that are recorded, and poor coordination between different national forces about incidents and even over investigations that do take place.

The leaked documents show better monitoring of incidents after new rules of engagement were put in place in June 2009 by the former NATO commander, US General Stanley McChrystal. But since General McChrystal’s dismissal in June 2010, his replacement, US General David Petraeus, has been under pressure from military officials and US law-makers to ease restrictions that had provided more protection to civilians.

Sam Zarifi added:

“These leaks need to galvanise the NATO command into redoubling their protection of civilians. Killings must be investigated in a transparent, consistent and coherent way across all the different forces in Afghanistan, providing justice and compensation for victims and their families.”

Amnesty reports on civilian casualties such as the Kunduz airstrike in September 2009 and the killing of two brothers in a Kandahar night raid in 2008 found that international forces were failing to account for civilian casualties in a systematic manner. The Wikileaks documents bear out Amnesty’s investigation into the Kunduz airstrike, which concluded that a disproportionate number of civilians were killed as a result of what seems to have been faulty intelligence by German forces.

The documents do not appear to address the January 2008 Kandahar night raid, but do highlight a central problem identified by Amnesty’s investigation into that incident, namely, the unaccountable operation of special operations forces outside the regular chain of command acting without proper rules of engagement.

Sam Zarifi added:

“These documents do not provide a comprehensive look at the situation in Afghanistan.

“International forces operating in the country still have to give a full account of what their forces have done in the past, and act immediately to ensure that there is a much better system of monitoring, accountability, and compensation in place for Afghan civilians.

“These leaks also show that the Taleban are responsible for the majority of the systematic human rights violations and violations of the laws of war in this conflict, but this does not excuse NATO forces from their responsibility to protect civilians.”

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