Compensation in Kandahar
By Dialogo January 31, 2011
Coalition forces in southern Afghanistan provided $1.4 million in compensation in the last four months to Afghan civilians whose properties were rigged with explosives by Taliban militants and later demolished by Afghan and coalition security forces.
The coalition has tried to avoid such demolitions, choosing to defuse explosive devices and save buildings from destruction when feasible. But in some cases, officials say, the risk to security forces’ lives is too great to justify trying to save structures that have often been abandoned for months or years.
Most of the demolitions occurred in three districts in Taliban strongholds in Kandahar province, where a major Afghan and International Security Assistance Force offensive, dubbed Operation Dragon Strike, began in September.
Hundreds of families, and in some cases entire villages, abandoned the area under pressure from insurgents before the offensive kicked off. Taliban militants took over hundreds of deserted homes and other structures, turning some into homemade bomb factories, fighting positions or weapons stores.
One major challenge facing both security forces trying to clear the area and civilians eager to return home “is that insurgents are rigging many of the structures and fields, particularly in Arghandab, Zhari and Panjwai, with [improvised explosive devices] and homemade explosives,” said Maj. Gen. James L. Terry, who commands ISAF troops in Kandahar, Zabul, Uruzgan and Daykundi provinces.
Taliban bombs hidden in buildings, ditches, walls and other structures in the region killed at least 97 Afghan civilians since September and injured another 167. Similar devices also killed and injured dozens of coalition and Afghan troops, many during operations to clear insurgent bombs.
“When possible, we use our explosive ordnance teams to render safe the IEDs,” Terry said, “but when they are more complex and dangerous, we use precision munitions to reduce them.”
Gen. David Petraeus, commander of ISAF troops in Afghanistan, has supported the demolitions, saying it would be foolhardy to risk Afghan and coalition troops’ lives in attempts to defuse bombs in abandoned structures.
“Remember that it is the insurgents who rig these buildings with IEDs and use them as weapon caches that threaten local Afghans,” Petraeus said. It’s that Taliban tactic that has necessitated the targeted destruction of buildings too dangerous to inhabit or rehabilitate.
Petraeus has also supported the process leading up to and following such demolitions, which involves close coordination with Afghan authorities, careful surveillance of suspect buildings and strict security protocols to prevent civilian casualties, and swift payment of claims to civilians who suffered damages.
With approval from local leaders, coalition forces have used precision munitions and bulldozers to carry out nearly 300 demolition operations since the beginning of Operation Dragon Strike. The operations have cleared buildings, walls, tree lines and other bomb-rigged structures in Kandahar province. No civilians were killed or injured during the demolitions.