Groups See US Troop Surge Harming Afghan Civilians
KABUL - The imminent deployment of extra US troops to insurgency-torn Afghanistan will likely lead to increased fighting and more civilian casualties, aid agencies warned NATO leaders on Friday.
In a report entitled "Caught in the Conflict," released as the alliance's leaders met in Strasbourg, the 11 agencies called for "a truly comprehensive strategy for the long-term reconstruction and stabilisation of Afghanistan."
NATO leads a nearly 62,000-strong military force fighting a Taliban-led insurgency in Afghanistan and Washington has pledged 21,000 extra soldiers this year and is mulling 10,000 more as part of efforts to tackle the militants.
"There is a likelihood that the deployment of more troops will lead to more fighting and that civilians will be caught up in those hostilities," Oxfam head of policy in Kabul, Matt Waldman, said Thursday ahead of the report's release.
"So that is why we are calling for military forces to do everything possible to minimise the harm that they cause to civilians, whether it is in air strikes or in ground operations," Waldman told reporters.
Last year was the deadliest of the insurgency spearheaded by the Taliban, who were removed from government in a US-led invasion in late 2001.
Nearly 2,200 civilians were killed, a 30 percent increase on the previous year, according to the United Nations.
The agencies, which also included Save the Children UK and ActionAid, said more needed to be done to ensure civilians caught up in the violence were not harmed.
About 55 percent of civilian deaths in the insurgency last year were caused by militants and nearly 40 percent by pro-government forces, according to UN figures.
"Despite taking steps to reduce civilian casualties, and repeated calls for restraint, too many military operations by foreign troops involve excessive force, loss of life and damage to property," Waldman said.
"This is causing anger, fear and resentment among Afghans, and is steadily eroding popular support for the international presence."
The groups called for rapid and transparent investigations when civilians were harmed and a unified system of paying compensation instead of the current "ad hoc" and "slow" process.
They also criticised military involvement in aid and humanitarian work, saying it was "ineffective" and endangered civilian aid workers who could be mistaken for soldiers because it "blurred" the line between the two.
Thirty-one NGO workers were killed last year, twice as many as 2007, the agencies said, adding some military forces even had white unmarked vehicles conventionally only used by the United Nations and aid agencies.
Stability in Afghanistan requires the military to focus on security, leaving civilian actors to address the reconstruction and humanitarian challenges, the report said.