Pulitzer Center Update

Civilian Casualties in Afghanistan 2007-2009

Mark Stanley, Pulitzer Center

Recently, the Pulitzer Center has highlighted reporting projects that focus on the human factor of the conflict in Afghanistan. An ongoing issue is so-called collateral damage, the unintended civilian casualties that result from military attacks and that have often inflamed local opposition.

Calculating the number of civilian casualties in such a conflict is difficult for many reasons, and there are inevitable disagreements about an accurate number. Predictably, any official count for the duration of the conflict is difficult to find. This post examines Afghanistan civilian casualty estimates from 2007-2009.

The United Nations Assistance Mission to Afghanistan (UNAMA) is a body tasked with providing political advice for the peace process and contributing to the promotion of human rights in Afghanistan. UNAMA also provides annual estimates of civilian casualties in Afghanistan.

In Afghanistan: Annual Report on Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict, 2008, UNAMA states there were 1,523 Afghan civilian casualties in 2007. It estimates that pro-government forces – including international military forces and Afghan security forces - were responsible for 629 (41%) of these casualties, while anti-government elements – notably the Taliban - were responsible for 700 (46%). The remaining casualties were attributable to neither side.

In the same report, UNAMA records 2,118 civilian casualties in 2008. It estimates that pro-government forces were responsible for 828 (39%) of these casualties, while anti-government elements were responsible for 1160 (55%).

In a similar report, UNAMA states there were 2,412 civilian casualties in 2009. It estimates that pro-government forces were responsible for 596 (25%) of these casualties, while anti-government elements were responsible for 1,630 (67%).

When combined, these estimates - which increased every year - total 6,053 Afghan civilian casualties from 2007-2009. During this time, the proportion of estimated casualties attributable to pro-government forces decreased, while that attributable to anti-government elements increased.

To learn more about the human consequences behind these numbers, view the work of Pulitzer Center journalist Jason Motlagh, whose in-depth reporting focuses on civilian casualties, with on-the-scene accounts of the aftermath of coalition attacks in western Afghanistan last summer. Also, view Pulitzer Center journalist Vanessa M. Gezari's latest post from Zormat, Afghanistan "The Problem of Memory: Why Launching A New Strategy In Afghanistan Is Harder Than It Looks.

Please answer our In Focus: Afghanistan question, "What role should foreign intervention, military and otherwise, play in state building?"

Select answers will be featured in a special post on this site.