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NATO Must Put Protection of Civilians at the Heart of Afghanistan ‘Transition’ Strategy, Warn Aid Agencies

2010 is already the deadliest year in a decade for civilians, but risks could increase unless NATO takes immediate action

WASHINGTON - International military forces must take urgent steps to
protect civilians caught up in the escalating conflict as they plan for
the handover of responsibility for security to the Afghan government,
warned leading aid agencies today.

The call comes as NATO leaders gather for a major summit in Lisbon on
19-20 November where they are expected to discuss the transition plan
drawn up by US General Petraeus, the top NATO commander in Afghanistan.

29 international and national aid agencies including Oxfam, Afghanaid
and the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission, have released a new
report – Nowhere to Turn
– which urges NATO to do more to improve the training and monitoring of
Afghan national security forces during the transition period.

"A grave risk of widespread abuses"

Ashley Jackson, head of policy for Oxfam in Afghanistan, said:

"Transition of security responsibilities to Afghan forces faces
enormous obstacles. There is a grave risk of widespread abuses by the
national security forces, which can range from theft and extortion to
torture and indiscriminate killing of civilians. NATO member states, who
train, advise, fund, and arm those forces, share responsibility for
making sure this does not happen, but so far we have seen little action
on the ground."

The report notes that Afghan soldiers and police are poorly trained
and command systems are weak. It says that there are no effective
mechanisms for registering community complaints and that civilian deaths
caused by Afghan forces are not adequately investigated or tracked. The
report calls on NATO to rectify this as a key part of its transition

Nader Nadery, Commissioner for the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission, said:

"Recent revelations of abuses by Iraqi security forces and militia –
and the fact that we are already seeing abusive behavior by militias in
Afghanistan – should be sounding a warning bell. There is still time to
get the right controls in place in Afghanistan. But NATO must act now."

NATO must stop arming local militias

The agencies argue NATO should abandon dangerous schemes such as the
so-called "community defense initiatives", which involve supporting
local militia groups to fight the Taliban.

They say that the international forces must immediately stop arming
these community militias. Recruits are barely vetted, receive little
training and are often accountable only to the local commanders. Far
from helping to stabilise the country, they are likely to contribute to
the growing instability.

2010 is already the deadliest year for Afghan civilians since 2001,
with civilian casualties up 31 percent in the first six months alone.
Security is rapidly deteriorating across the country with even the
previously stable north reporting a 136 percent rise in civilian deaths.

A sharp rise in civilian casualties

Anti-government groups cause most Afghan civilian casualties.
However, the report warns that while NATO forces have taken steps to
reduce the direct harm their operations cause to civilians, their
military tactics are continuing to put Afghan lives at risk. A key
factor behind NATO's reduction in direct civilian casualties is the
decrease in the use of airstrikes since 2009. However, the agencies warn
that there is a risk that such casualties may now increase as there has
been a dramatic rise in airstrikes in recent months.

"More civilians are being killed and injured than ever before and
Afghanistan is more insecure than at any time in the past nine years.
We are concerned that unless urgent steps are taken now, the violence
will continue to escalate in 2011 and civilian suffering will only
increase," said Farhana Faruqi-Stocker of Afghanaid.

Read more

Download the report: Nowhere to Turn: The Failure to Protect Civilians in Afghanistan (pdf, 1.6MB)

View the slideshow: The cost of war in Afghanistan

Watch the video: What Afghans want

Take action: Add your voice to our petition to put the Afghan people first

Learn more: Oxfam's humanitarian work in Afghanistan


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Oxfam International is a confederation of 13 like-minded organizations working together and with partners and allies around the world to bring about lasting change. Oxfam works directly with communities and that seeks to influence the powerful to ensure that poor people can improve their lives and livelihoods and have a say in decisions that affect them.

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