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Losing hearts and minds

March 9th 2009

Why the difference between  ISAF figures  and UN figures?

A letter to me from Foreign Secretary David Miliband says that NATO and US troops were responsible for 237 civilian casualties in 2008. The insurgents are blamed for 973 deaths. The UN calculate 826 civilian casualties to pro-government forces and 1160 to insurgents. There are other figures provided by Non-government organisations that are even bigger.

I raise the difference in a debate a few weeks ago and David Miliband promised to write. The reasons that David gives for our figures being a third of the UNs are not convincing. He writes, 'Obtaining accurate figures  is highly challenging due to quick burial, the remoteness of the incident areas, lack of accurate population data and often malicious exaggeration by some Afghans, both for political ends and to claim financial compensation.

He fairly adds that 'insurgents are responsible for the vast majority of civilian fatalities are caused by suicide bombers in public places.'

Accurate figures are crucial if we are to appreciate the extent of the alienation of Afghans. The civilian deaths are about half those inflicted on Gaza. The British public saw many heartbreaking pictures of the carnage. Afghan civilian deaths are invisible here but reported widely in Afghanistan.

Winning heart and minds is at least as important as the military campaign. Understating the number of deaths destroys trust and recruits suicide bombers.