The Zeitgeist Politics

Global Politics with a focus on The Middle East

Posts Tagged ‘NATO

The need for accurate civilian casualty figures in Afghanistan

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This piece was originally published on Foreign Policy’s Afpak Channel, titled “NATO’s responsibility to Afghan civilians”.

June was the deadliest month for the NATO-led force in Afghanistan since the start of the conflict. As fighting intensifies and as British troops pull out of Sangin, proponents and detractors are still squabbling over the relative success of the counterinsurgency strategy (COIN), spearheaded under the Obama administration, and the GOP is arguing over whether chairman of the Republican National Committee Michael Steele’s recent ill-advised comments about the war should be a cause for his resignation.

While domestic discussion over whether various countries should remain in Afghanistan gathers steam, a key metric that should be strongly related to the ‘success’ narrative is not getting enough airtime. Much has been made of whether NATO is ‘winning’ the war in Afghanistan or what it really means ‘to win’ such a war in the first place, but civilian casualties have rarely been discussed in any precise context.

According to a UNAMA survey released in January, 2009 was the deadliest year to date for Afghan civilians and a striking amount were killed by increased Taliban activity. But whether it’s the Taliban, suicide attacks, or U.S. forces killing civilians, the pain for the families of those killed is on the rise — and they may not care who is responsible for the deaths of their loved ones. The lack of attention from coalition governments to the details of how many civilians are killed is not encouraging.

According to James Denselow, neither the U.S. Defense Department nor the British Ministry of Defense “maintain records that would enable a definitive number of civilian fatalities to be recorded.” This is in stark contrast to scrupulously maintained numbers of military casualties. Denselow thinks that this is part of the propaganda war and that it’s aimed at maintaining control over the ‘win’ narrative. NATO governments need to take more responsibility for the accurate recording and reporting of information related to civilian casualties, much as they do for military casualties. This should not be left solely to UNAMA.

Military casualties are an understandable cause for concern for those at home, but we must also care about civilian casualties and the increasing humanitarian crisis in the country. While far from a perfect measurement, Foreign Policy’s Failed States Index has rated Afghanistan as 6th in 2010, a position that has deteriorated every year since the Index began in 2005 (when Afghanistan was 11th).

It is notable that under General McChrystal’s rules of engagement, more protection was supposed to be provided for civilians. Equally notable is the news that General Petraeus might change the rules of engagement again due to concerns that they are putting coalition forces in greater danger. The UNAMA survey mentioned above indicates that during 2009, with McChrystal’s changed rules of engagement in place for half the year, the number of civilian casualties killed by coalition forces had indeed decreased, but statistics are not yet available for 2010.

So far the debate over rules of engagement has focused greatly on the balancing act between protecting civilians and endangering coalition forces; however, I struggle to see how this debate can be properly carried out when reliable metrics are not available for half of the balance.

Apart from policy wonks and military types engaged in the debate over rules of engagement, the tax payers who are bankrolling this war need to start thinking independently about what it means to ‘win’ and whether three Australian soldiers killed is so momentous that Afghan civilian casualties pale in comparison. In the war over numbers, we need to stop looking after our people only and look deeper into what the ‘win’ narrative means. While the U.S. and its allies have a lot at stake in this war, the people of Afghanistan have immeasurably more. Whether history judges NATO or the Taliban to be the ‘winners’ in Afghanistan, the Afghan people could end up being the losers.

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Written by alexlobov

July 13, 2010 at 9:46 pm

Turkey & NATO are not to be trifled with

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NATO

Turkey has called an emergency meeting of NATO to discuss the attack on the aid flotilla, JPost reports (does anyone else find it funny that this was posted under Arts & Entertainment on JPost?):

NATO called Tuesday for a “prompt, impartial, credible and transparent investigation” into Monday’s Israeli raid on a Gaza-bound aid flotilla that ended with the deaths of nine activists.

Representatives of the alliance’s 28 nations met on Tuesday to discuss the incident. Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen demanded the immediate release of the detained civilians and ships held by Israel.

Turkey called the emergency meeting, but its representative did not demand that the alliance take collective action against Israel, said a diplomat who attended the talks.

This is important because Turkey could have tried to invoke Article 5 of the NATO Treaty, this is because as mentioned in this interpretation of maritime law, “to attack a foreign flagged vessel in international waters is illegal. It is not piracy, as the Israeli vessels carried a military commission. It is rather an act of illegal warfare.”

NATO’s calls for an impartial investigation follow the UN Security Council’s calls for one earlier in the day.

It should be noted that Turkey also threatened yesterday to send more boats but under the escort of the Turkish Navy. If Turkey were to actually make good on this particular threat then we the stakes would be raised dramatically. Israel would either have to face an embarrassing backdown on their blockade or attack Turkish ships, which would precipitate a full-scale war and an invocation of NATO Article 5. If such a thing were to actually eventuate, NATO, of course, would not participate in an Israeli-Turkish war but its refusal to do so would also deal the organisation a death blow.

There’s a great little analysis of a potential war between Israel and Turkey over on Newshoggers, but, as the writer Dave Anderson himself concludes, such a war makes no sense for anyone right now. Moreover, I’m sure that Obama will talk Turkey out of doing anything even remotely provocative, given how desperately his administration is still trying to grasp at the straws of indirect peace talks.

There are some very interesting thoughts on Turkish-Israeli relations here:

But this attack really puts the Turkish generals in a box. They had been the faction largely driving the Entente. And now the AKP can continue to implement its soft-shoe version of Islamism in Turkey–as the secularists don’t have an ultimate trump card in the military. This has long been a project of the AKP, to chip away at the strength of the generals.

Turkey will probably draw closer to Syria–after all it doesn’t need Israel to pressure Syria to kick out the Kurds as it did back in the late 90s. This benefits Syria, Hamas and Hezbollah. I’d also say much of this is largely a consequence of our invasion of Iraq, too.

So, in this action Israel has done the following: put America and NATO in a very difficult place. It’s emboldened the Islamists in Turkey and weakened the generals in Ankara. It has also forced Turkey closer to Syria.

Quite the strategic win for the Israeli strategic genius, ain’t it?

The author makes a very good point. Turkish-Israeli relations have been pretty messed up since Cast Lead and this is pretty much going to destroy them altogether for a long time. Apart from personal ideology, Erdogan will be under far too much domestic pressure to even consider any positive moves towards Israel. As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, Israel should beware. Turkey is not to be trifled with.

Bonus: MV Rachel Corrie, an Irish ship, is heading towards Gaza. The Irish Foreign Minister has requested that Israel allow it through the blockade. Israel has said that it will also intercept it. Will it also be raided? Presumably the occupants of the ship, five Irish and five Malaysian nationals are prepared for such an eventuality. Let’s hope there is no violence but watch closely what Israel does. Will it again pre-empt the ships arrival by raiding it in international waters? Will it send commandos again? And will an attack on an Irish vessel precipitate a broadening of the already extensive diplomatic crisis?

Written by alexlobov

June 2, 2010 at 4:04 am