US/NATO forces made 730,000 Afghans homeless since 2006
One irony of the current security situation in Afghanistan is that international forces, whose apparent aim is to protect civilians while fighting the Taliban, may be responsible – directly or indirectly – for the bulk of internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the country, whose number is rising.
About 400 individuals were displaced each day from 2006 to 2010 – 730,000 in total – mostly due to military operations by US/NATO forces, according to the Oslo-based Internal Displacement Monitoring Center (IDMC), an affiliate of the Norwegian Refugee Council.
The so-called “surge” in US/NATO troops and increased counterinsurgency operations in 2010 resulted in the displacement of about 85,000 people in the volatile south of the country alone. About 10,000 were also displaced by anti-insurgent offensives in the north, IDMC said.
“The US and ISAF [NATO-led International Security Assistance Force] currently lack an understanding of internal displacement in the context of their operations,” Jacob Rothing, an IDMC country analyst, told the UN news agency IRIN, adding that their own standard operating procedures to minimize civilian displacement were not developed and used by US/NATO forces in Afghanistan.
Furthermore, local militias hired by the government and its US/NATO allies for counterinsurgency purposes, were grabbing land, resulting in further internal displacements, Rothing alleged.
ISAF said it could not “agree or disagree” with the allegation that forces under its command were responsible for most of the civilian displacements in Afghanistan.
“We have not seen the means by which the causes of conflict-related displacements are assigned,” said John L. Dorrian, an ISAF spokesman. The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) said it was not in a position to say which warring party was most to blame for most internal displacement.
“We can certainly say that people are mostly displaced by conflict – all fighting parties have to be blamed,” said Nader Farhad, a UNHCR spokesman in Kabul.
ISAF, meanwhile, said that its counterinsurgency (COIN) campaign was focused on the protection of civilians.
“The clear principle that Gen David Petraeus [commander of all US/NATO forces in Afghanistan] has conveyed to ISAF troops is that civilian casualties and collateral damage are detrimental to ISAF’s cause,” John L. Dorrian, a NATO/ISAF spokesman in Kabul, told IRIN, adding that if troops operated contrary to the COIN principles “tactical victories may prove to be setbacks”.
The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) reported in March that civilian casualties attributed to international forces dropped by 26 percent in 2010 compared to the previous year, but the number of noncombatants killed and wounded by armed opposition groups increased by 28 percent in the same period. Over 2,770 Afghan civilians were killed in 2010, UNAMA said.
However, the Taliban rejected UNAMA’s report, calling it “biased”.
“While US and ISAF forces made successful efforts in 2010 to minimize civilian casualties and loss of life, they have not made equivalent efforts to reduce the scale of forced internal displacement,” said an IDMC report released on 11 April.