Afghanistan: Warning over civilian deaths from Nato and Taleban tactics
Fears for those displaced by ‘Operation Moshtarak’
Amnesty International has called on both sides to protect Afghan civilians as NATO and Afghan forces continue a major military offensive in the southern Afghan province of Helmand.
Amnesty International’s Asia-Pacific Director Sam Zarifi said:
“About 10,000 civilians have fled the conflict zone, but thousands more are caught up in the fighting.
“Afghanistan is likely to witness heavier fighting this year than ever before, and last year the war already claimed more than 2,400 civilian casualties, the highest number since 2001. So it’s crucial for all sides to take efforts to minimise harm to civilians.”
Displaced residents have reported that the Taleban tried to prevent civilians from leaving the conflict area and in some instances have fired from, and sought shelter among the civilian population. The Taleban and other anti-government groups were responsible for some two-thirds of all civilian casualties and injuries last year, according to UN estimates.
Sam Zarifi added:
“The Taleban have a record of knowingly endangering Afghan civilians in their operations, which can constitute a war crime.
“Insurgent groups are bound by international law to take every possible precaution to protect the lives of civilians. The Taleban invoke international laws of war when it suits their purposes. Their failure to respect these laws is inexcusable and they should be held to account for their actions.”
Amnesty also urged Afghan and international military forces to ensure they comply with their legal obligation to protect civilians from harm. Operations by NATO forces have already lead to the deaths of at least 15 civilians in and around the Marjah region since the “Operation Moshtarak” (“Joint Command”) offensive began on 13 February. Twelve people, including six Children's rights, died after two US missiles struck a house on the outskirts of Marja district on Sunday. NATO has claimed that the attack was caused by a faulty missile system.
Sam Zarifi said:
“The US and NATO have made commitments to minimise civilian casualties. But international and Afghan forces still lack a consistent, clear and credible mechanism to investigate civilian casualties, provide accountability and ensure that such incidents do not recur.
“This is now particularly urgent with more than 30,000 extra foreign troops deployed in Afghanistan and apparently committed to a more aggressive military strategy.”
Amnesty also called on all warring parties to ensure that humanitarian assistance can reach needy civilians. The operation, which targets Marjah and Nad Ali districts of Helmand, has resulted in thousands of residents fleeing the conflict zone for Helmand’s main town, Lashkar Gah, as well as to Kandahar and Herat. The Afghan Department for Refugees and Returnees has reportedly registered more than 6,000 displaced people from Marja and Nad Ali since the operations were announced.
Sam Zarifi said:
“We know that in other recent campaigns, thousands of displaced people have not been registered with the authorities, as they have chosen to stay with family and friends, often ignored or out of reach of humanitarian assistance.”
Amnesty calls upon the Afghan government and all relevant national and international aid agencies to provide immediate assistance for the displaced, including essential food and potable water, basic shelter, appropriate clothing and heating materials as well as essential medical services and sanitation, in line with the UN Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement.