Targeted Killing: Drones

U.N. Report on Civilian Casualties in Afghanistan

By Raffaela Wakeman
Wednesday, February 20, 2013, 12:48 PM

Yesterday, as I noted in today’s news roundup, the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan released its annual report on civilian casualties (defined as both direct and indirect deaths and injuries) in the conflict, and for the first time in six years (which is when UNAMA starting tracking these statistics), that number has decreased significantly. Here's a link to the press release, and a link to the report itself.

The good news: a 12 percent decrease in overall civilian deaths and minimal increase in civilian injuries, and by Pro-Government Forces there was a 46 percent decrease in civilian casualties (1,088 in 2011 versus 587 in 2012).

Here’s some not-so-good news: a 9 percent increase in civilian casualties caused by "Anti-Government Elements" (aka, the Taliban) (from 5,636 in 2011 to 6,131 in 2012), and a 700 percent increase in that same number for Afghan civilian government employees (from 34 casualties in 2011 to 255 in 2012). UNAMA refers to a 2012 Taliban statement identifying civilian government employees as "lawful targets" (the reports reminds us that targeting civilian government officials is a violation of international humanitarian law).

More from UNAMA on which side is responsible for the bulk of the civilian casualties:

Eight percent of all civilian casualties or 587 civilian casualties (316 deaths and 271 injuries) were attributed to Pro-Government Forces in 2012, a 46 percent decrease in total civilian casualties (39 percent drop in civilian deaths and 53 percent decline in injuries) from 2011.

As to that number everyone’s so concerned about these days: UAV strikes. UNAMA uses CENTCOM's air power statistics in calculating how many total aerial strikes there were, and it cautions that the number of civilian casualties "may be higher as UNAMA is not always able to confirm which type of platform was used during an aerial operation...that resulted in civilian casualties" (taken from footnote 117).

UNAMA counted five incidents out of 1,336 total "weapons releases from remote piloted aircraft" that resulted in a sum total of 16 civilian deaths and 3 injuries. That is to say that a whopping 0.37 percent of air strikes caused civilian casualties. The raw number is actually an increase. UNAMA only documented one such incident in 2011, although it's unclear from the 2011 report how many civilian casualties resulted from the singular UAV strike.  The report explains that "most" of these UAV civilian casualties were caused by weapons "aimed directly at insurgents," but asterisks that by saying that other information indicates some of the casualties might have occurred as a result of targeting errors.