Much attention has been paid to the numbers of US troops being killed in Afghanistan this year – surpassing the numbers killed in Iraq despite there being about a third as many troops in Afghanistan as in Iraq. But what of the Afghans killed?
The Taliban and the US/NATO forces were competing with one another this year for who could kill more civilians. Members of the Taliban use suicide bombers as weapons, while US/NATO forces use bombs, and in some cases, snipers and grenades. Wikipedia, using a variety of reliable sources (Associated Press, United Nations, Human Rights Watch, etc), has tallied that since the start of the war, “insurgent actions” have resulted in 2,016 – 2,449 direct deaths, while “US-led military actions” have led to 3,922 – 4,841 direct deaths.
As analyst and Afghanistan expert Conn Hallinan pointed out in an interview I did with him this morning on Uprising, all those killed by the Taliban who are not US/NATO troops are assumed to be civilians. While those killed by US/NATO forces are always assumed to be “insurgents” unless proven otherwise. This implies that the civilian death toll at US/NATO hands is likely a vast underestimate.
Still, it is worth it to extrapolate the number of deaths caused by the US and NATO to numbers that Americans can relate to. Using the low end of the range mentioned above – 3,922 deaths at the hands of US-led military efforts – that number is proportionally equivalent to a foreign-led military operation killing about 37,000 civilians in a country the size of the US over the past seven years.
Another aspect of the tally above is that the US-led military actions have led to twice as many deaths as the Taliban over seven years! Using deaths alone as a measurement of the impact of the two occupations – a Taliban occupation is less dangerous for the average Afghan. If accounting for the fact that the Taliban’s killings are in response to the US/NATO occupation, that’s nearly 8000 Afghans killed directly or indirectly as a result of a Western occupation for the past seven years.
However, the Taliban are no friends of Afghanistan (and neither are the warlords in parliament for that matter). While they may enjoy some popular support that is increasing, their rule in the 1990s was among the worst periods for Afghan people. If more Afghans are choosing the Taliban today, it is as the lesser of two evils, rather than a desire to see this fundamentalist extremist regime in power – the nation-wide jubilation at the Taliban’s defeat in 2001 is a testament to their real unpopularity.
Still, it is worth it to examine the impact of the US/NATO occupation, to counter the myth that “we aren’t doing enough in Afghanistan.” We’re doing enough alright – in fact, we’re doing far too much. And it’s time we stopped.