U.S. Special Operations Forces (SOF) killed well over 1,500 civilians in night raids in less than 10 months in 2010 and early 2011, analysis of official statistics on the raids released by the U.S.-NATO command reveals. That number would make U.S. night raids by far the largest cause of civilian casualties in the war in Afghanistan. The report by the U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan on civilian casualties in 2010 had said the use of Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) by insurgents was the leading cause of civilian deaths, with 904.
Except for a relatively few women and children killed by accident, the civilians who died in the raids were all adult males who were counted as insurgents in press releases and official data released by the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) … //
… That targeting shift, acknowledged by military officials to the authors of a recent study by the Open Society Foundations and The Liaison Office, was reflected in an 82-percent increase in the number of people seized in raids and detained briefly during the August- November campaign, compared with the May-July campaign.
Those detainees were also counted as insurgents in the data released to the news media, despite the fact that up to 90 percent of them were released as civilians within days or months, as IPS reported last June.
Some of those targeted civilians were killed in raids when they appeared to challenge the SOF intruders, adding to the 1,588 non-targeted individuals killed in the raids. However, estimating the additional toll of civilians is impossible.
The ISAF Public Affairs Officer for SOF issues and officials responsible for civilian casualties monitoring at the U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan did not respond to requests for comment on this article.
Afghan human rights officials and foreign observers have suggested that fewer civilian deaths have occurred in night raids with the increasing use of the so-called “soft knock”, in which Afghan personnel are used to announce the presence of the raiding party with a loudspeaker before entry into the house.
The toll of civilians in more recent 90-day periods may well have been reduced in 2011 compared with a year earlier, as suggested by smaller numbers of alleged insurgents said to have been killed over the course of the three campaigns.
But night raids clearly remain the overwhelmingly primary – though still unacknowledged – cause of civilian deaths in the war.
Gareth Porter is an investigative historian and journalist specialising in U.S. national security policy. The paperback edition of his latest book, “Perils of Dominance: Imbalance of Power and the Road to War in Vietnam”, was published in 2006. (full text).
(Gareth Porter is an investigative historian and journalist specialising in U.S. national security policy. The paperback edition of his latest book, Perils of Dominance: Imbalance of Power and the Road to War in Vietnam, was published in 2006).