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Military convoys put civilians "at risk"

A NATO armoured vehicle in Kabul city
NATO armoured vehicles in Kabul (NATO/ISAF)

Only seconds after a convoy of armoured military vehicles passed Fawad Tokhi, 35, at about 8.20am in the south of Kabul city on 18 May, he was wounded in a suicide attack.

“I was bleeding. The only thing I could do was to call my brother and tell him that I was wounded,” Tokhi told IRIN at his home in Kabul. He was seriously hit in the chest and abdomen.

Officials said the blast killed six foreign soldiers and at least 12 civilians; another 47 civilians were injured.

“I first blame foreign forces for unnecessary patrolling on city streets in busy hours of the day. Secondly, I blame the government for its inability to stop foreign forces from rambling on the city streets in their armoured cars. Thirdly, I blame the Taliban for their attacks which often kill and injure innocent people,” said Tokhi.

“I don’t understand what ISAF [International Security Assistance Force] achieves on busy streets in Kabul except creating traffic congestions and causing risks to people,” said Ahmad Wali, 19, who was injured in the same attack.

With ISAF/NATO headquarters in the center of Kabul, the presence of international forces on the streets is inevitable; non-operational movement includes military officers crossing the city regularly to meet government officials, and the shuttling of men and equipment from the city's airport.

Magnet for risks

Under international law, any attack on military targets must be proportionate, discriminating and should avoid harming civilians.

“Each party to the conflict must take all feasible precautions in the choice of means and methods of warfare with a view to avoiding, and in event minimizing, incidental loss of civilian life, injury to civilians and damage to civilian objects,” states rule 17 of Customary International Humanitarian Law (C-IHL).

Over the past two years, at least 15 attacks on NATO-led ISAF forces in Kabul have been recorded in which 15 soldiers and more than 50 civilians lost their lives, according to ISAF.

Insurgents have also attacked military convoys and facilities in other major cities across the country.

“There is a heavy responsibility on ISAF to take into account that their very presence on the streets can be a magnet for the insurgency,” Rachel Reid, an Afghanistan researcher at Human Rights Watch (HRW), told IRIN.

“Escalation of Force”

At least 61 civilians have died across the country over the past two years in 4,700 incidents in which NATO troops used escalation of force procedures, according to ISAF. This occurs when NATO-led forces open fire on civilian cars or people who disregard warnings and breach security parameters around military vehicles, bases or forces.

''We know the road is good but we also know that an asphalted road brings ISAF patrols and with them comes suicide and roadside attacks''

NATO said it had taken measures to reduce such incidents and the process had helped to reduce the resulting civilian deaths from 28 in April to one in May.

“Unfortunately, no system can provide a cast-iron guarantee that civilians will not be killed, but when they are, and we are responsible, we accept that responsibility,” Iain Baxter, a NATO/ISAF spokesman, told IRIN.

Human rights groups, however, demand more than just acceptance of responsibility.

“What is still lacking from ISAF is any accountability so when something goes wrong and mistakes are made and civilians are killed unnecessarily, I think there is not just a need for investigations but also for those who have been found guilty of any wrongdoing to be held to account in some way,” said Reid.


ISAF was established and mandated by the UN Security Council resolution 1386 to assist Afghan authorities maintain security in Kabul. Resolution 1510 authorized the expansion of ISAF beyond Kabul and in August 2003, upon the request of the Security Council and the government of Afghanistan, NATO assumed command of ISAF.

Afghan officials emphasize the need for NATO/ISAF as a guarantor of the post-Taliban peace, security and political arrangements.

But some Afghans feel caught up in a conflict in which they suffer the brunt of casualties.

“Foreign forces came to our village and said they want to asphalt the road but we said no,” said Shir Ahmad, a resident of Dara-e-Pachaye in Kabul’s Paghman District. “We know the road is good but we also know that an asphalted road brings ISAF patrols and with them comes suicide and roadside attacks.”


This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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