After four days of deliberations in Kabul, a Loya Jirga of some 2,500 elders and tribal leaders on Nov. 24 announced its endorsement of the Bliateral Security Agreement that will enable thousands of US troops to remain in Afghanistan after the supposed "withdrawal" of NATO forces next year. A similar deal between the US and Iraq collapsed in 2011 over the issue of whether Pentagon troops would have to answer to local courts. A draft text released by Kabul last week appeared to show that Afghan President Karzai had yielded to a US demand for exemption of its troops from Afghan jurisdiction. Nonetheless, Karzai now says he will reject the Loya Jirga's recommendation that he sign the agreement, citing continued civilian casualties at the hands of US forces.
Amnesty International (AI) on Oct. 22 urged the US to conduct a thorough, impartial and independent investigation into allegations that Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) drone strikes have resulted in recent civilian casualties in Pakistan. AI reviewed (PDF) more than 50 reported US drone strikes in Pakistan from January 2012 to August 2013, many of which resulted in multiple civilian deaths. AI asserts that, because the US government refuses to provide "accurate information" with respect to specific drone strikes, and its drone program in general, certain CIA operatives may be guilty of arbitrary and extrajudicial executions in violation of international law. According to AI, the US is obligated by international law to fully investigate each strike and ensure that guilty parties are brought to justice.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Aug. 13 insisted that US drone strikes must operate within international law. The secretary-general hailed the country's lead role in UN peacekeeping operations and addressed the controversial weapons in a speech at the National University of Science and Technology in Islamabad, stating, "[a]s I have often and consistently said, the use of armed drones, like any other weapon, should be subject to long-standing rules of international law, including international humanitarian law. This is the very clear position of the United Nations. Every effort should be made to avoid mistakes and civilian casualties."
A UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) mid-year report (PDF) released on July 31 indicated a 23% rise in the number of Afghan civilian casualties over the first six months of 2013 as compared to the same period last year. The report noted that many civilian deaths have been caused by the increased use of improvised explosive devices. Women and children are also increasingly the victims in the country's war, with a 30% increase in the number of children killed. Additionally, almost 75% of civilian deaths during this time period were caused by "Anti-Government Elements" such as Taliban fighters, who were increasingly targeting civilians that they viewed as cooperating with the government. The report calls on the Afghanistan government to "continue to disband and disarm all armed groups and to take measures to ensure accountability for human rights abuses carried out by these groups."
Military Judge Denise Lind on July 30 found Army Pfc. Bradley Manning guilty of violations of the Espionage Act for his disclosure of classified information to anti-secrecy organization Wikileaks. The judge, however, acquitted Manning of the more serious charge of "aiding the enemy." In 2010 Manning leaked more than 700,000 government documents, diplomatic cables and a controversial classified video of a 2007 US helicopter strike in Iraq that resulted in the deaths of numerous civilians and two Reuters journalists. The US Army formally charged Manning in July 2010, but his bench trial did not begin until last month at Fort Meade, Md., nearly three years after his initial arrest. Manning faces 136 months to life in prison. The court is expected to sentence Manning on later this week. Several advocacy groups have decried the verdict, with Wikileaks terming it "extremist," while members of the US government have praised it as evenhanded.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai on Feb. 25 ordered all US Special Forces out of two key provinces within two weeks, accusing Afghan units under their command of being responsible for the torture, abuse and disappearance of civilians. Wardak and Logar provinces, lying just outside Kabul, are considered strategic gateways to the capital. Karzai's charges reference two apparently recent incidents: The disappearance of nine civilians following a special forces operation, and the death of a student who was taken away during a night raid and whose body was found two days later under a bridge with his throat cut and signs of torture. The US has denied its forces were involved.
The Guardian on Dec. 7 noted a Dec. 3 story in Military Times, "Some Afghan kids aren’t bystanders," concerning an October air-strike in Nawa district of Afghanistan's Helmand province in which three children were killed, and, apparently, intentionally targetted—two boys and one girl, aged 8 to 12. Local officials protested the targetting of children. Writing from Helmand's Camp Leatherneck, Military Times responds: "But a Marine official here raised questions about whether the children were 'innocent.' Before calling for the M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket System mission in mid-October, Marines observed the children digging a hole in a dirt road in Nawa district, the official said, and the Taliban may have recruited the children to carry out the mission." The supposed hole was intended for an improvised explosive device, according to the Marine official. On Oct. 16 the New York Times reported that the young victims' families said they had been sent to gather dung for fuel. Military Times isn't impressed, noting hundreds of cases in which kids were apparently used on missions by the Taliban—including one in Kandahar's Zharay district, where two boys, 9 and 11, along with a 18-year-old male, were found carrying soda bottles "full of enough potassium chlorate to kill coalition forces on a foot patrol."
A Sept. 30 checkpoint shooting in eastern Afghanistan's Wardak province brought the US military's death toll in the war past 2,000, by official count. A report by the Brookings Institution (PDF) estimates that 40.2% of US deaths were caused by improvised explosive devices and 30.3% by gun attacks. The independent organization iCasualties estimates a higher US death toll, recording 2,125 to date. This same source reports 1,066 deaths of non-US coalition troops in Afghanistan. (BBC News, Sept. 30) Note that the US military death toll reached 1,000 in 2010—a grim indication of how the rate of US casualties is growing. The death toll for Afghan civilians last year alone topped 3,000—lives claimed by both insurgent and coalition forces. Afghan civilian death (at that point mostly at the hands of US bombardment) topped 3,000 by the end of 2001. The figure, poetically, is the same as the death toll from 9-11.