I saw some fresh figures on 2009 civilian casualties in Afghanistan this week from the U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA). They are, I'm betting, on the generous side both when it comes to counting casualties as "civilian," and counting "civilian casualties" as American-caused.
The underreported news is, air strikes in Afghanistan, widely depicted as indiscriminate American causes of Afghan outrage, account for only 20 percent of the total. Suicide attacks and roadside bombs, attributable to jihadists, killed 39 percent. Assassinations -- another Taliban specialty -- claimed 11 percent, while "other," divided between pro- and anti- government forces, was responsible for 29 percent. In its own reckoning, UNAMA states that "59 percent of civilians were killed by AGEs (Anti-Government Elements) and 30.5 percent were killed by PGF (Pro-Government Forces)."
This is an important finding. Civilian casualties have been widely, if not exclusively, portrayed by U.S. military leadership as the stumbling block to our winning "hearts and minds" -- a.k.a. "trust" -- in Afghanistan. Winning "hearts and minds," in turn, is widely portrayed by U.S. military leadership as the key to victory.
A question for our brass: If the Taliban is responsible for disproportionately more casualties than the United States -- and purposely so where ours are inadvertent -- shouldn't, by our brass' own reckoning, all those Afghan hearts and minds already belong to us? Could there be something else - such as the Islamic religion - causing Afghans to reject our infidel "hearts and minds" pathetically pressed on them, along with grotesque sums of money, like hopeless valentines?
These are questions the brass can't answer, can't even think about, because the answers would upend America's entire Afghan strategy. We are in a war on civilian casualties in Afghanistan to win Afghan hearts and minds. Period. And woe to statistics, let alone basic and intractable religious differences, that undermine this illusory strategy.
But there is something else Americans should become aware of regarding the military's obsession with further decreasing casualties as a means to victory. Our troops, the brass says, are the ones who are ultimately going to have to find what Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, our new commander in Afghanistan, earnestly calls the "balance."
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