Afghan War Has Become More Lethal to Civilians

John Bohannon's freely available story in this week's Science contains new data on civilian casualties in Afghanistan that were provided exclusively to the magazine:

A few independent organizations, including the United Nations, have published their own reports on civilian casualties in Afghanistan, but only for illustrating broad trends. The data underlying their reports have never been released.

For the first time, those data are now publicly available. In January, [military officials] provided Science with a database of civilian casualties called CIVCAS. It is the military's internal record of the death and injury of Afghan civilians, broken down by month, region, weaponry, and perpetrator. By its reckoning, 2537 civilians were killed and 5594 were wounded over the past 2 years, with 12% of those casualties attributed to [coalition] forces and the rest to insurgents…In February, after learning that the military was releasing these data, both the UN and an Afghan human rights organization agreed to release versions of their own civilian casualty data to Science. They show twice as many civilians killed over the same period, including 393 deaths by air strikes that were not counted in the military database. ISAF officials acknowledge the gap. "The civilian casualties reported by the UN have always been higher than those reported by ISAF," says U.S. Navy Rear Adm. Gregory Smith, the director of communications for NATO based in Kabul. "But the trends have been very consistent."

The majority of deaths, and nearly all of the recent increase, are attributed to indiscriminate attacks by insurgents rather than ISAF soldiers. In spite of a troop surge and the launch of new operations against the Taliban last year, the data provided by the UN show a 26% drop in civilian deaths caused by military forces.

Bohannon will be participating in a live chat on the data tomorrow on ScienceInsider at noon EST. A useful graphic, viewable with the latest version of Chrome, offers visual insight.