Military officials say that civilian casualties in Marjah, Afghanistan are "inevitable" as U.S. and allied forces launch Operation Moshtarak, the largest military action since the U.S-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001.
Thanks in part to conflicting messages from ISAF and in part due to some residents’ inability to flee, many civilians remain in Marjah, in the crossfire.
Statements from Brig. Gen. Nicholson, commander of the operation, indicate that he feels he has leeway to use airstrikes in the civilian area, and that he intends to use fast, furious attacks to try to overwhelm the Taliban. The problem: airstrikes in support of troops in contact are the leading cause of U.S.-caused civilian deaths.
In the L.A. Times article on the upcoming operation in Marja, the U.S. commander says all the right words when it comes to the issue of insulating the non-combatants from the carnage:
…[I]n the weeks leading up to the imminent offensive to take the Helmand River Valley town of Marja in southern Afghanistan, the Marines’ commander, Brig. Gen. Larry Nicholson, sat with dozens of Afghan tribal elders, drinking endless cups of sweet tea and offering reassurances that his top priority will be the safety of Afghan civilians.
“In counterinsurgency, the people are the prize,” Nicholson said…
US Second Marine Expeditionary Force commander Larry Nicholson said that the evacuation of most civilians would give commanders leeway to use air-to-ground missiles, declaring that he was “not looking for a fair fight.”
ABC News quotes Nicholson explaining some truly worrisome logic:
Nicholson underscored the point saying a heavy handed approach will reduce the chance for civilian casualties.
“Our feeling is if you go big, strong and fast, you lessen the possibility of civilian casualties as opposed to a slow methodical rolling assault. You go in and you dominate. You overwhelm the enemy,” he said.
Okay, let’s put these two things together. Nicholson is telegraphing he’s letting the air strikes off the chain and that he intends to use rapid, furious attacks in Marja, and somehow that is supposed to lead to reduced civilian casualties. Well, that would be great if we didn’t already know that the single greatest cause of U.S.-caused civilian casualties was airstrikes in support of troops involved in intense firefights.
All of this is very, very bad news for civilians in Marjah. And it’s bad news for the troops in the fight as well.