It is already clear that the number of civilian dead from the bombing vastly exceeds the estimated 500 killed by US air strikes during the 78-day Kosovo war, and may also be higher than the 3,200 Iraqi civilians believed killed during the Gulf war. A lot of civilians are clearly being killed or injured. It’s definitely in the four figures, says a UN source. A senior Médecins Sans Frontières worker, who has been in Afghanistan for five years, estimates the number of civilian dead at between 2,000 and 3,000, based on reports from hospitals and field workers around the country.

Some analysts say more than 60 Afghan civilians are being killed daily on average since the bombing began on October 7. A European de-mining expert in Kabul who works closely with the Pentagon reckons that up to 8,000 civilians have been killed. Professor Marc Herold of the University of New Hampshire puts the number of civilian casualties at least 4,000. Prof Herold, a left-wing anti-war activist, is one of the few seeking to establish the death toll, tabulating it daily from media reports. It’s a good first go, says Sam Zarifi of Human Rights Watch in New York, which had two researchers on the Pakistani-Afghan border for 11 weeks trying to get a picture of the toll. It has a database of 300 strikes it wants to investigate for civilian casualties.

Carl Conetta of the Commonwealth Institute calculates that the so-called smart bombs and high precision strikes have been a lot less accurate in Afghanistan than they were two years ago in Yugoslavia.

Despite the adulation of Operation Enduring Freedom as a finely tuned or bulls-eye war, the campaign failed to set a new standard for precision in one important respect: the rate of civilians killed per bomb dropped,

he says. In fact, this rate was far higher in the Afghanistan conflict – perhaps four times higher – than in the 1999 Balkans war.

There is little doubt the war in Afghanistan has been a triumph of American might. But out of sight and out of mind, day after day, in dribs and drabs, a lot of ordinary people are dying in a war that sees the most advanced fighting machine ever assembled doing its killing in one of the most backward societies on earth. The results: just two Americans killed by hostile fire to set against thousands of dead Afghan non-combatants.

From Revolutionary Association of Afghan Women website – based on article in The Guardian, 12 February 2002

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