Insurgents a threat to Afghan civilians

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This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.

Audio Transcript:

Marco Werman: Across the border in Afghanistan we have a new glimpse into the toll the war there is taking on civilians. The U.S. and its military partners that make up the International Assistance Force have been keeping detailed records of civilians killed and injured during the past few years, and those records have now been made public for the first time. By the military's count, the number of Afghan civilians killed in the past two years is just over 2,500. The number injured during that time period was over 5,500. John Bohannon is a correspondent for Science magazine who first got access to the data.

John Bohannon: What surprised me was that when you dig deeper into those data, hidden within that death toll, that total death toll, are signs that the military has actually improved. It has adapted to the situation and is treading more lightly on the civilian population.

Werman: The military says the vast majority of civilian casualties, almost 90%, are due to attacks by insurgents. The number of casualties reported by the military is lower than what's been reported previously by the U.N. and human rights groups. Bohannon says that's because those groups rely on testimony of other people and sources to compile their numbers. The military only records the civilian casualties it sees firsthand.

Bohannon: They're not creating a definitive historical record of who is being killed in Afghanistan. They're using these data in realtime, trying to improve the way that they're prosecuting the war and gauging progress. So, even though it's an undercount, it is tracking reality.

Werman: Meaning the military is using its own realtime data on civilian casualties inflicted by their own troops in lessons on how to avoid more civilian casualties. The military started its current program of counting civilian casualties in 2008 after coming under severe criticism for an air strike on a wedding party, and also because of pressure from Afghan president Hamid Karzai. John Bohannon's article of Afghan civilian deaths was published today in Science magazine. You can find a link to it and to the military's data on civilian casualties in Afghanistan, that's all at theworld.org.