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NATO At War with Civilian Casualties as It Launches Offensive in Afghanistan

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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?

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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.

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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."

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Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof Press. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure." He was an editor for

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