Afghanistan — Chairman Emphasizes Eliminating Civilian Casualties

KABUL, March 31, 2010 — The coali­tion record on civil­ian casu­al­ties has improved sig­nif­i­cant­ly as a new strat­e­gy has gone into place in Afghanistan, but Amer­i­can lead­ers con­tin­ue to ham­mer home how impor­tant it is to avoid killing civil­ians.
Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chair­man of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, vis­it­ed with troops serv­ing on the front lines of the war in Region­al Com­mand South. Marines in Mar­ja – the site of the recent offen­sive in Hel­mand province – asked him about the rules of engage­ment. Troops in oth­er venues ask him about the furor over civil­ian casu­al­ties.

One Marine yes­ter­day won­dered why the Amer­i­cans – who try des­per­ate­ly not to kill civil­ians – are pil­lo­ried when an acci­dent occurs, yet the Tal­iban seems to kill fel­low Afghans with impuni­ty.

“The ques­tion that sur­rounds civil­ian casu­al­ties … takes me imme­di­ate­ly to the lack of depth and breadth of under­stand­ing that we had … about the sever­i­ty of the out­come and the impact it has,” Mullen said to reporters trav­el­ing with him. “We just can’t win it if we keep killing the locals.”

The ene­my uses any acci­den­tal civil­ian death against Amer­i­can or coali­tion forces. Mullen said Army Gen. Stan­ley A. McChrys­tal, the U.S. and NATO com­man­der in the coun­try, shared with him the results of a study show­ing what hap­pens in an area when civil­ian casu­al­ties occur.

“When we cause them, they gen­er­ate a seri­ous uptick in vio­lence for up to five months,” he said. “When the Tal­iban caus­es them, they gen­er­ate an uptick in vio­lence for about three months.”

Coali­tion lead­ers know that civil­ian casu­al­ties have a huge impact on the over­all strat­e­gy, Mullen said, and the study McChrys­tal com­mis­sioned proves that. “We know that the Tal­iban use that against us, and we are work­ing hard to both denounce that and take that away, but they are very good and agile in attack­ing us,” he said.

Coali­tion forces have to get to the point where they are not caus­ing civil­ian casu­al­ties at all, he added, and when the local peo­ple know only the Tal­iban are caus­ing civil­ian deaths, and it will start to work against the ene­my. “We’re not there yet,” he said.

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)