Afghan Civilian Casualties from Airstrikes 'Tripled' Under Trump

Civilian deaths in Afghanistan have soared by a whopping 330 percent under US President Donald Trump, according to a new report which blames the administration’s move to loosen military rules of engagement three years ago.

During the first three years of Trump’s presidency, an average of 1,134 civilians were killed annually by US-led airstrikes and Afghan government forces – an increase of almost 95 percent on the average yearly death toll under former President Barack Obama – according to a report published Monday by Brown University’s Costs of War Project.

In the first six months of 2017, the US bombed Afghanistan 1,984 times, three times as often as it had during the same period of 2016. The increased number of airstrikes was a direct result of the Trump administration having “relaxed its rules of engagement for airstrikes,” according to the report.

Freed of the need to have direct contact with enemy forces before unleashing death from above, the Pentagon and Afghan military alike quickly took advantage of the situation by dropping unprecedented numbers of bombs. These included the Massive Ordnance Air Blast (MOAB, a.k.a. “mother of all bombs”) – the US’ highest-yield bomb. The airborne terror campaign was supposed to “pressure the Taliban into reconciliation,” US Brigadier General Lance Bunch told reporters in 2018.

From 2016 through 2019, the number of Afghan civilian casualties increased 330 percent under the new rules of engagement. The US “does acknowledge harming Afghan civilians as part of its military strategy in Afghanistan,” the report explained, observing that in 2019 Washington doled out 65 “condolence payments” totaling over $314,000 to “friendly” Afghan civilians – payments meant as “an expression of sympathy or goodwill” rather than “compensation or reparation.”

Last year proved to be the worst for civilians in the war’s nearly two-decade span, with some 700 Afghan non-combatants killed over the course of 2019 – “more civilians than in any other year since the beginning of the war,” according to the report. However, it will be hard to tell going forward exactly how many civilians are dying at American hands; in March 2020, the Pentagon stopped publishing data on the number of airstrikes, supposedly to avoid impacting peace talks.

And while US airstrikes appear to have declined this year following the tentative peace agreement between Washington and the Taliban, the Afghan government has filled the vacuum, ramping up its own airstrikes over that period. After killing 86 people and injuring 103 more during the first six months of the year, Kabul nearly doubled its casualty rate from July to September, leaving a further 70 civilians dead over the course of those three months.

During his 2016 campaign for the presidency, Trump pledged to bring American troops home from the never-ending wars in the Middle East. However, he has largely failed to deliver on that promise, even sending more troops to Afghanistan in 2017 before finally beginning to reduce their number this year.

The US has little to show for 20 years spent slogging it out in the longest war in American history, despite spending trillions of dollars and sending thousands of soldiers to their deaths. The Taliban remain in control of more than half the country.


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