War in Afghanistan: NATO Airstrikes That Kill Civilians Undermine Fight Against Taliban


On Saturday, an airstrike by NATO's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) with U.S.-led coalition forces killed 11 children in Afghanistan in an attempt to target Taliban leaders. The children's lives were claimed in the Shigal province of the Kunar district, about 125 km away from Kabul. The airstrike comes just after a suicide car bomber struck a NATO convoy in the southern province of Zabul on Saturday, killing three U.S. soldiers and two civilians, one of whom was a young female diplomat.

On Monday, Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai condemned the attacks in a statement released by his office. "The president," the statement reads, "while condemning the use of civilians as shields by the Taliban, denounced any kind of operations that cause civilian deaths." The denouncement by Karzai and the deaths of 11 civilian children by the NATO airstrike has shown that NATO and the United States might be doing more harm than good in their efforts to combat the Taliban, and that NATO and the U.S. must reconsider its strategy in the "war against the Taliban."

After an air strike in February killed 10 civilians in Afghanistan, mostly women and children, Karzai banned the Afghan military from calling in aerial support from NATO forces. Captain Luca Carniel, an ISAF spokesman, told Al Jazeera that coalition forces, not Afghan security forces, called in the air strike. Civilian deaths in Afghanistan in the efforts to fight the Taliban have been extremely contentious, drawing harsh criticism from the president and provoking angry protests among civilians.

A UN report in February has stated that the Taliban and other-anti government groups were responsible for 81% of all civilian deaths in Afghanistan in 2012. And while overall civilian deaths were down in 2012, the UN says targeted killings of government employees were up 700%. Moreover, attacks on women and children, particularly those working or going to school, were up 20%.

However, the report also shows that air strikes were the main cause of civilian deaths by foreign forces in 2012, and while the civilian deaths decreased by 42% between 2011 and 2012, air strikes in 2012 killed 126 civilians, including 56 children.

I am not saying that there is no reason for action against the Taliban. Clearly, the amount of civilian casualties caused by the Taliban do not amount to the civilian casualties caused by NATO air strikes. This being said, even though NATO believes it is "on the road" to winning the war against the Taliban, when NATO air strikes are killing civilians, no matter what percentage, we need to question whether its methods of "winning the war" are the best methods possible. Civilians are not "collateral damage." They are people, and they are the people our troops are fighting for.

Additionally, despite NATO's elaborate ceremonies to emphasize Afghanistan's sovereignty in the efforts against the Taliban, it is clear through President Karzai's remarks on NATO's efforts and his actions after the recent air strikes that he does not feel that Afghanistan's sovereignty is being respected. Karzai's remarks towards NATO's efforts in Afghanistan show not only his opinion of the air strikes and civilian deaths, but also a reflection of the general population's. Karzai's statements can serve as a catalyst to the population, and can end up endangering NATO missions. This undermines the importance of the fight against the Taliban, and it undermines NATO's legitimacy in its efforts.

As NATO and the U.S. prepare to hand off control to Afghan security forces, it is imperative that they reconsider the effectiveness and efficiency of their methods of attacking the Taliban. Not only are civilian deaths within the crossfire of this war despicable, but it ends up undermining the overall effort against the Taliban, particularly damaging the legitimacy of NATO and the U.S. efforts. If we are truly "on the road" to winning the war against the Taliban, we need to be doing a better job of protecting the civilians we are fighting for.