Failure to Protect Civilians will Derail President Trump’s Afghanistan Strategy
By T. Kumar, Advocacy Director, Asia and Europe, Amnesty International USA
On August 21, 2017, President Trump unveiled his strategy for the United States’ war in Afghanistan. Sixteen years ago, the US deployed thousands of troops to Afghanistan in response to the attacks on 9/11, with the aim of going after the masterminds of 9/11 and to deny safe — haven to those targeting the US. Over the course of the conflict, US strategy has moved from President Bush’s ‘Operation Enduring Freedom’ to President Obama’s ‘Operation Freedom Sentinel.’ Neither succeeded in ending the war.
Global institutions also supported military operations in Afghanistan, with the UN Security Council giving its blessing, and NATO joining the war with full force. Several countries around the world also joined the war effort, resulting in large numbers of civilian deaths.
Despite international support, strategies to end the war failed and casualties mounted. Several diplomatic initiatives also failed. The Obama Administration’s diplomatic attempt to persuade Qatar to allow the Taliban to open an office there, in addition to several rounds of talks with the Taliban, accomplished little. Even the killing of several Taliban leaders did not have any impact on the ground.
So how different is President Trump’s plan compared to other attempts to deescalate the conflict? The answer is: not much. Like those before him, Trump’s strategy relies on using the military to exert enough pressure to bring the Taliban to the negotiating table with the Afghanistan Government.
President Trump’s strategy is also strikingly similar to previous administration’s strategies of not including protection of civilians, who have suffered the heaviest toll these 16 years. Afghan civilians have lost thousands of loved ones. Thousands more have been seriously injured or forced to flee their homes to live in Make-shift camps that have resulted in several children freezing to death.
Amnesty International have documented numerous incidences of abuses against civilians by US troops and allies, including, private military contractors. Few, if any, have been brought to justice for the bombing of internationally protected areas like hospitals to arbitrary killing of civilians.
Moving forward, President Trump’s first step must be to roll out a strategy to protect civilians and to bring perpetrators to justice, including US forces. This strategy should be backed up by strict rules about the use of force and disciplinary procedures. Every six months, the Trump Administration should submit a report to Congress about the implementation of these rules and submit an assessment of the human rights situation in Afghanistan, including abuses by the US forces and allies, and actions that were taken against them. President Trump must open the case of the Kunduz hospital bombing, where it is alleged that US forces bombed a hospital run by Doctors Without Borders/ Médecins Sans Frontières.
Additionally, the Trump Administration should link any military and economic assistance to the Afghan Government to civilian protection.
For too long, US strategy in Afghanistan has exclusively focused on the use of force without any success. Civilians have endured enormous pain and suffering. Unless civilian protection is at the center of Afghanistan strategy, the war will not end, and will derail President Trump’s Afghanistan strategy.