Rise of US Airstrikes in Afghanistan Caused Threefold Increase in Civilian Casualties


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The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) reported that the number of civilian casualties has almost tripled in the first six months of 2019 as compared to the previous year. Among the dead are ten children, including members of a family who had sought refuge in Kunduz within the last month in a strike on that village, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism reported in July 2019.

Since the Trump administration softened its rules of engagement in Afghanistan in 2017, the county has relied heavily on US airstrikes to combat the Taliban. This shift has put more civilians at risk because airstrikes can now take place far from US or Afghan forces’ operations. According to the Bureau’s report, May 2019 saw the largest uptick in airstrikes since 2015, when the Bureau started covering the conflict. In 2019, the US was responsible for eighty percent of the civilian casualties in Afghanistan, while Afghan forces accounted for fewer than ten percent of them. The escalation of US airstrikes is likely due to efforts to force the Taliban to negotiate as a part of the Doha peace process.

For its part, US military leadership has rejected the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan findings, asserting that its own data collection methods are “more thorough, evidentiary and accurate” than the UNAMA’s.

The New York Times reported that the airstrike in Kunduz was ordered after an Afghan soldier who US officials described as a Taliban insider opened fire on US troops, provoking a firefight that lasted 20 minutes. One of those strikes hit the home where the family was living. NATO confirmed this was a US airstrike but did not acknowledge civilian casualties or deaths.

Source: Abbie Cheeseman, “Threefold Rise in Civilian Casualties from US Airstrikes in Afghanistan,” Bureau of Investigative Journalism, July 31, 2019, https://www.thebureauinvestigates.com/stories/2019-07-31/threefold-rise-in-deaths-from-us-air-strikes-in-afghanistan.

Student Researcher: Timothy Hicks (Mount Tamalpais College)

Faculty Evaluator: Susan Rahman (Mount Tamalpais College)

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