The Common Good

As Civilian Casualties Spike in Afghanistan, New Attempts to Reward 'Courageous Restraint'

Two recent news reports on the war in Afghanistan present a more complete story together.

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One reported that civilian deaths are rapidly rising in Afghanistan, after a period in which they had been steeply declining. And the rise is largely due to shootings at checkpoints:

Shootings of Afghan civilians by American and NATO convoys and at military checkpoints have spiked sharply this year, becoming the leading cause of combined civilian deaths and injuries at the hands of Western forces.

It is one of the paradoxes of counter-insurgency war. Any hope for a military outcome rests on success in winning the local population, yet insurgents are often indistinguishable from the people. Soldiers at checkpoints are "faced with a different challenge of snap decisions" by troops "much closer to not only the people but the enemy," said Gen. David Rodriguez, the operational commander of American and NATO forces in Afghanistan. A soldier often has a split second to decide whether the car approaching the checkpoint contains women and children or a car bomb that could take his life. And so if the vehicle doesn't stop when ordered, the normal response is to fire.

The other story reported that the military is considering a new "courageous restraint" award for troops who avoid using force when it could endanger civilians. A statement on the NATO Web site said that, while troops are usually rewarded for effectiveness in combat, in a counter-insurgency campaign:

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