LONDON, Aug. 10 (UPI) -- Nine years after the beginning of the U.S.-led Operation Enduring Freedom, the issue of civilian casualties in Afghanistan is moving increasingly to the forefront.
In the wake of the release of a U.N. report outlining an increase in civilian targeted killings in Afghanistan by anti-government forces, Amnesty International, in a news release issued Tuesday, called for the Taliban and other insurgent groups to be investigated and prosecuted for war crimes.
The human rights non-governmental organization's Asia-Pacific Director Sam Zarifi said: "The Taliban and other insurgents are becoming far bolder in their systematic killing of civilians. Targeting of civilians is a war crime, plain and simple.
"The Afghan people are crying out for justice and have a right to accountability and compensation. There is no practical justice system in Afghanistan now that can address the lack of accountability. So the Afghan government should ask the International Criminal Court to investigate war crimes and crimes against humanity that may have been committed by all parties to the conflict."
Bolstering its case, Amnesty International said it received reports that tribal elders in Kandahar, Zabul, and Khost provinces have been fleeing fearing becoming targets of the Taliban. Speaking on condition of anonymity, a Kandahar journalist told Amnesty International investigators: "The elders are threatened and if they don't cooperate with the Taliban they are killed. Then the Taliban will just tell the village that the elder was an American spy and that is why he was killed."
The issue of mounting civilian casualties caused by International Security Assistance Forces and NATO troops has also entered the American political debate over the course of the war, intensified by the last month's release of thousands of secret documents about the war on the WikiLeaks Web site.
The WikiLeaks materials supported allegations that Afghan civilian casualties were substantially higher than reported by the Pentagon, a premise verified by U.S. Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal, who became the senior U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan last year prior to resigning June 28.
McChrystal stated during a March 26th video conference answering questions from troops in the field about civilian casualties, "We have shot an amazing number of people, but to my knowledge, none has ever proven to be a threat."
The U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan reported that ISAF, NATO and government forces have caused 29 percent fewer casualties in 2010 than in 2009, attributing the decline to policy changes placing greater priority on civilian protection, which is especially notable in a 64 percent decline in casualties caused by aerial attacks.
Sounding a note of caution, the UNAMA report focuses on Special Forces operating in Afghanistan for acting without accountability and urges greater transparency over their operations.
The report's concerns are bolstered by the WikiLeaks documents, which discussed Task Force 373, a covert U.S. Special Forces unit in Kabul, Kandahar and Khost, whose existence had long been rumored and whose mission is to capture or kill Taliban and al-Qaida leaders without trial using a "joint prioritized effects list" containing the names of 2,000 senior targets to be captured or killed.