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Weekly news roundup: Civilian casualties in Afghanistan, another decade in Iraq?

written by Matt Elliott
on August 13, 2010

Little in the way of good news came out of Afghanistan this week. According to a U.N. report, there were 3,268 civilian casualties, including 1,271 deaths, in the first six months of 2010, which is a 31 percent increase compared with the same period last year. The report points to the Taliban and other "anti-government elements" for the rise in civilian casualties. The UN found that anti-government elements were responsible for 76 percent of the civilian casualties, up 53 percent from 2009. Reasons for the increased civilian casualties this year include "a greater number of larger and more sophisticated improvised explosive devices (IEDs)" and a 95-percent rise in civilians assassinated and executed by the Taliban and other anti-government elements, including public executions of children.

The civilian casualties are tragic in their own right, but even more troubling when you see this video from GlobalPost. It shows how under-trained Afghan security contractors lead to accidental civilian deaths and shares a troubling statistic from a new report from the New America Foundation: one civilian death leads to six retaliatory attacks from the Taliban.

Expect the fighting to continue. With President Obama's drawdown date of July 2011 still a year away, military officials are already calling for a slow troop withdrawal. And in the more immediate future, a Pentagon official says to expect heavy fighting this fall around Kandahar, a city the Obama administration had hoped would show signs of stability by last June.

Meanwhile, the planned troop withdrawal from Iraq was questioned this week by Iraq's most senior general. Lieutenant General Babakir Zebari said the Iraqi army is not ready to assume control, and may not be so for another decade.

"If I were asked about the withdrawal, I would say to politicians: the U.S. Army must stay until the Iraqi army is fully ready in 2020," he said.

Perhaps part of the reason for the general's trepidation is an increase in attacks by Al Qaeda in recent weeks, which have targeted Baghdad's police force as it has taken more responsibility from the Iraqi army. The Christian Science Monitor reports, "Almost daily attacks on police and traffic police in Baghdad and Anbar Province west of the capital in the past two weeks have killed almost 30 police."

We're mired in Iraq; will we soon be fighting or speaking with Iran? Obama's national security adviser, Gen. James Jones, said this week that "the door's open" for a meeting between the United States and Iran. We ought to begin speaking soon, if this article in the current issue of The Atlantic correctly assesses Israel's ambitions toward its potentially nuclear-capable Middle East neighbor. It concludes that there is better than a 50 percent chance that Israel launches an attack against Iran by next summer. This Christian Science article tries to answer the question, what happens if it does?

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