13 January 2010

The Difference Between Iraqi and Afghani Civilian Deaths

The NY Times reported today that the Afghan civilian death toll is at its highest since the CF invasion in 2001. The Untied Nations report found a 14% rise in civilian deaths totaling 2412 people. Al Qaeda in Iraq made a strategic blunder by alienating themselves from the Iraqi population through massive collateral damage. Iraqbodycount.org provides the most accurate assessment on the civilian casualties. Their analysis shows that when AQI was at its height in 2006, Iraqi civilians suffered between 25,699-27,519 killed from their 29 million person population. During the 2007 Surge, the Iraqi population lost between, 22,586-24,159 people. The question before us is, will the Afghan population turn on the Taliban like the Iraqi population did on AQI, due to unnecessary loss of life?

A: Unlikely, for four reasons.

1) Afghanistan lost 2412 civilians out of a 28 million person population. While this number is unfortunate, the per capita rate of 9/100K in Afghanistan pales in comparison to Iraq's 101/100K.
2) Afghanistan has a warrior culture. I have talked to several veterans from Afghanistan and they all remarked at how resilient the Afghan population is. Afghan men fight bravely against any and all tribal threats. The Afghan population has a much deeper sense of self sacrifice in the name of their tribe. Deaths resulting from IEDs and suicide bombers are another matter and will be discussed in a subsequent paragraph.
3) The majority of Afghanistan's population is separated through lack of media capabilities. Most homes in Iraq have satellite dishes, where as this is not the case in Afghanistan. If five Afghans are killed by an IED in the Helmand province, do any villagers in the Konar province even hear about it?
4) Afghanistan's Tribal fabric does not lend itself to a national unity. This means that losses in civilian life outside of one's village and tribe may not have the same effect it does in a place like Iraq.

There are a few things the ISAF leaders can do. First is to streamline the IO product creation and distribution process. Company Commanders need to be able to capitalize on local civilian deaths. The Afghan people will see a suicide bombing in a crowded market as a senseless loss of life. Companies can capitalize on this senseless loss of life by rapidly producing IO messages highlighting Taliban blunders. This should be in the form of flyers and also broad casted over radios on the same day that the deaths occurred. Next, we need to conduct analysis on civilian deaths by province and tribe to identify what tribes should receive more attention, through security measures and civil affairs projects. Heavily effected civilian populations are ripe for COIN successes in the form of IO and CA projects. We won't see the same scope of civilian losses resulting from AQI's blunder in Iraq; however, we can captitalize on the Taliban's tactical blunders through increased security, IO messages, and CA projects.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Good idea.

    What about 18-24 mos from now?

    This is not a country, is it? It's a geographical expression.

  3. Actually, despite the relatively small number of civilians killed (and the somewhat greater number injured) in the Afghan conflict, our polling there has shown that attribution of blame for civilian casualties (to US/NATO or Taliban/AQ forces) has a big effect on confidence in US/NATO forces. The political impact of each civilian casualty seems to be disproportionate.

  4. One more point - 70% or more of Afghans listen to the radio most nights. Moreover word spreads fast via cell phones too - especially of clashes, deaths, and rumors. (See the polling on our website for details.) You can bet that people in Helmand hear of events in Konar. Afghans are very media oriented and quite well informed on developments - because being informed has been a condition in survival for decades. The problem is not that they can't here our IO via media - the problem is that the Taliban IO have been beating the daylights out of ours.