Monday, July 30, 2007

NATO, Afghanistan- Smaller bombs, fewer civilian casualties?

Seems the attempt to win good press around respecting IHL in Afghanistan isn't getting very far. Now the calculus seems to be, 'smaller bombs, fewer casualties'.

'NATO plans more restrained tactics in its war against Taliban guerrillas, including smaller bomb loads on aircraft, in an effort to cut civilian casualties, the alliance's head said in an interview published on Monday.

The Financial Times said NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer had acknowledged that mounting Afghan civilian casualties had hurt support for NATO, and had said commanders had ordered troops to hold off on attacks in some situations where civilians were at risk.

"We realise that, if we cannot neutralise our enemy today without harming civilians, our enemy will give us the opportunity tomorrow," the paper quoted him as saying in an interview.

"If that means going after the Taliban not on Wednesday but on Thursday, we will get him then."

De Hoop Scheffer said that while it was impossible to avoid civilian casualties entirely, NATO was "working with weapons load on aircraft to reduce collateral damage".

More than 330 civilians have been killed in operations involving foreign troops in Afghanistan this year, according to Afghan officials and Western aid workers.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai has warned that the casualties could damage support for the presence of foreign forces in his country.

The Financial Times quoted a NATO diplomat as saying that using smaller bombs could cut civilian casualties. "If you put a 250 kg bomb rather than a 500 kg bomb on the plane, that could make a huge amount of difference," the unnamed diplomat said.

The paper quoted other NATO officials as saying the alliance would increasingly leave house-to-house searches to the Afghan army to avoid confrontations.

Seems to pick up on our earlier comments around the same subject. The Guardian is following the same story with a bit more depth.