Flickr Photo by isafmedia
Ahead of the current offensive by U.S. and NATO forces in Marjah, the North-Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), an intergovernmental military alliance assisting the U.S. heavily in efforts to control and secure Afghanistan, issued these words for civilians: "Keep your head down." These words along with other messages warning of civilian casualties were effective; many civilians fled the area in and around Marjah.
Civilian casualties have become NATO’s worst enemy. Reports of casualties constantly call into question the mission in Afghanistan. Suppressing news of civilian casualties or discrediting reports of civilian casualties has become key to the success of NATO in Afghanistan.
It’s not hard to understand why NATO would tell Afghanis to keep their head down. This gives NATO political cover to commit any kind of acts they want to commit. Now, if civilians get killed, NATO can say civilians were warned.
But, isn’t informing civilians that they should "keep [their] head down" tantamount to issuing a disclaimer that you might read on a box of food or a bottle of pills? Isn’t it like the "Caution: Hot" warning on McDonald’s coffee cups, a warning printed not because most people are too stupid to understand coffee is hot but because McDonald’s doesn’t want to be sued?
Most people know coffee is a hot drink. Most know war and military occupations are violent and produce resistance from those opposed to the war and occupation. So, NATO can tell innocent civilians that they will be hurt or die if they are in the line of fire or areas where air strikes are going to take place but increases in civilian casualties will still occur.
Warnings won’t improve how the Afghani people perceive NATO. If the Afghanis continue to reject the presence of NATO and think they are directly responsible for the death of civilians (deaths that could have been prevented), the Afghani people will make NATO work harder to propagandize the world into thinking NATO is in Afghanistan for a good cause.
Recent reports indicate that civilian casualties have steadily increased since 2005, which is why NATO is now publicly warning civilians of attacks. Could increases in casualties be happening because there are less than 100 al Qaeda in Afghanistan or because after eight years the Taliban has really been decimated?
In 2009, Reuters reported "civilian deaths caused by pro-government forces, including U.S., NATO and Afghan security forces, rose nearly a third in 2008 from a year earlier to 828."
Each report of those killed in attacks increases the uproar from villagers in Afghanistan who claim innocent friends and family were killed. NATO and U.S. leaders react by "pledging" to "investigate" the attack to see if innocent people were killed and to also confirm that they did, in fact, kill some Taliban.
Conflict has risen between alliances and organizations monitoring the Afghan War and the Afghani people over how many of those civilian deaths are a result of Taliban insurgents. The UN reported in January of this year that "2,021 civilians were killed in the first 10 months" of 2009 and 1,400 civilians died as a result of insurgents while 465 died as a result "U.S. and other pro-government forces."
Military forces have blamed the Taliban for drawing attention to deaths of innocent victims to promote protest against foreign troops in Afghanistan. This should come as no surprise. This is part of NATO’s system for discrediting claims that civilians were killed.
A document called, "NATO in Afghanistan: Master Narrative as at 6 October 2008," was leaked a few years ago. It presented justifications and explanations that players in the Afghanistan War and the International Security Assistance (ISAF) mission could use when dealing with the media.
On the issue of "Civilian Casualties/Human Rights," the document stated, "ISAF takes all possible measure to protect innocent civilians and their property."
Furthermore, it outlined, "the ISAF mission is to support the Afghan Authorities and to provide a secure and stable environment to allow for the expansion of governance and development" and "ISAF serves at the invitation of the GIRoA and the people of Afghanistan." It made clear that "ISAF Troop Contributing Nations (TCNs) do everything possible to minimize the risk of civilian casualties" and also detailed protocol for handling civilian casualty reports: "any credible claim of the death of civilians is to be immediately investigated."
While claiming NATO/ISAF will accept responsibility for civilian casualties/property damage, the document made clear: militants deliberately target innocent civilians with suicide attacks and IEDs, forcefully oppose efforts to improve the life of the Afghani people, force civilians into situations where they are either killed or are at risk of being harmed by NATO/ISAF or coalition forces, use tactics that involve launching attacks from civilian areas, retreating to civilian areas, and using civilians as human shields.
It also made plain that "Taliban and other insurgents continue to be more responsible for more civilian casualties than US and NATO forces."
If one examines news stories involving Afghani villagers crying out in protest against foreign troops who killed women and children, it becomes evident that this master narrative drives NATO’s public relations. The master narrative goes into overdrive whenever civilian deaths are reported and images are broadcast of villagers bringing bodies of innocent civilians like women and children out into the streets. Villagers often appear in these reports voicing their discontent to members of the press or media nearby.
In response to accusations of civilian casualties, NATO will issue statements usually claiming there is "no evidence to substantiate the claim." Or, they will claim the dead are all insurgents, at first. Or, they will cite the fact that they were after a Taliban or militant commander in the area and they were fired at and returned fire. Or, in some cases, NATO does all of these things to dampen the intensity of backlashes against killings of civilians; they create confusion, disorder, and doubt that they were responsible for any dead civilians.
With a protocol in place to consistently create doubt that civilians were killed by attacks by NATO on "militants," it’s no wonder that the Afghani people protest NATO (and U.S.) troops in Afghanistan.
Fortunately for NATO, the Afghani people oppose the Taliban just as much as NATO. The Taliban (or what remains of the Taliban) is finding it has to be just as concerned about civilian casualties as NATO and U.S. forces are, which calls into question any claims by NATO that the Taliban or insurgents are using civilians as human shields into question.
Also, NATO commanders can label anyone resisting foreign occupation "Taliban". When NATO suggests insurgents are involved, it’s entirely possible that these "insurgents" are Afghanis who have been radicalized as a result of NATO’s negligence, incompetence, and brutal campaigns in the country.
The reality is that NATO (and the U.S.) is waging military occupation. Inevitably civilian casualties will occur. Actions will run counter to what the Afghani people want (in fact, polls often show more than half to two-thirds of the population want foreign troops out of their country now). And, this will all happen under the guise of training Afghan security forces so Afghanis can one day run their own country.
Individuals who are the public face of NATO or U.S. involvement will keep the focus off of accusations that foreign troops are bribing Taliban warlords. They will keep discussion of drug trafficking in Afghanistan out of the conversation. And, they will subvert any credible coverage of policies that might indicate that the U.S. endgame is a geopolitical endgame, part of a quest for a permanent presence in Afghanistan that could directly challenge Russia and China.
The world should know Afghanis are not a people that will keep their head down. They will only move from village to village trying to avoid being caught up in the wanton destruction of their country for so long before they resist foreign troops they are told to accept as liberators.