According to a U.N. estimate, nearly 2,200 civilians were killed in Afghanistan last year as a result of the conflict.
Civilian deaths resulting from U.S. military actions are a major source of tension in U.S.-Afghan relations.
The Obama administration plans to more than double the number of U.S. forces in Afghanistan from about 32,000 in December to 68,000 by the end of this year, in addition to the 32,000 troops from other countries in Afghanistan under the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF).
Proponents of the Obama policy argue more troops will help bring greater security to Iraq and decrease the level of violence, while critics say more military forces will only exacerbate the problem.
After the most recent bombing of civilians, ICRC spokeswoman Jessica Barry said, “With more troops coming in, there is a risk that civilians will be more and more vulnerable.”
Gen. McKiernan has requested an additional 10,000 troops for 2010, beyond what the Obama administration has already committed itself to.
But U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates expressed skepticism that yet further troops would be a solution to the country’s problems. “My view is that it would be a far better investment to focus on building the strength of the Afghan army and the Afghan police,” he said last week, “making sure that of the numbers of people we have there, there are adequate trainers so that we can accelerate the growth of those forces.”
Many Afghans are even more skeptical that an increase in the U.S. troop presence will be a solution. “It cannot help and I think the problem will be increased,” said Dr. Abdullah, a physician at the main hospital in Kandahar, where a large number of the additional troops are expected to be deployed.
A patient of Abdullah’s injured in a terrorist bombing, 8 year old Nassir Ahmad, similarly said, “Because the people disagree, especially the people who are the opposite of the government, and the attacks will be increased.”
Nani Kako, a local tribal leader there, agreed an increase in troops will result inevitably in more civilian casualties as fighting escalates.
The deputy commander of NATO forces in southern Afghanistan, U.S. Brig. Gen. John Nicholson, said of Afghan concerns about Obama’s policy plan, “We assure people – or try to reassure them – that this additional security will lead to a better way of life. But yes, there will be a period of increased fighting until we get to that point.”
Many Afghans would prefer to see peace talks between the U.S., the Afghan government, and the militants. Shahida Hussein, a women’s rights activist in Kandahar, said, “What the U.S. administration and its international partners should do is sit down with the insurgents, find out why they are fighting and reach some kind of agreement.”
A public opinion poll taken in Afghanistan by the BBC, ABC News, and ARD German TV in February found that an increasing number of Afghans view the U.S. unfavorably and think the country is heading in the wrong direction.
When asked whether foreign forces should be increased, decreased, or remain the same, 18 percent of Afghans welcome Obama’s strategy of increasing troops numbers, compared to 44 percent who want a decrease of foreign troops on their soil.
When asked when foreign forces should leave Afghanistan, over half believe forces should withdraw within 2 years, including 21 percent who want foreign troops to leave immediately.
77 percent of Afghans think U.S. and NATO/ISAF airstrikes are unacceptable due to the dangers to the civilian population.
Most Afghans, 64 percent, want to see negotiations take place with the Taliban to end the conflict.
When asked whether the election of Barack Obama would make a difference for their country, the most popular answer, at 35 percent, was that his election would “not make much difference for Afghanistan”.