What’s an acceptable amount of civilian deaths?

America is attempting a more humane war in Afghanistan.  But with at least 33 civilian deaths being reported, people in Afghanistan are angry and upset.

President Hamid Karzi has called on troops to put a stop to the civilian deaths. He said “Although the NATO troops have done a lot to reduce civilian casualties, our objective is to reach the point where there is no civilian casualty,”

But is this a realistic request during a war?Blogger Diane West outlines the problem faced by the troops calling it a “no -lose” situation for the Taliban.  She says, A: The Americans don’t fire back for fear of causing civilian casualties, leaving the Taliban free to use the place as a launch site or more; and B: The Americans do fire back, killing civilians in the process and thus giving the Taliban a nice little international PR coup.

Blogger SWAC Girl  is frustrated by the restrictions based on the army and says, “In my opinion, it is unfair to send our military forces into combat situations such as Afghanistan (far more dangerous than Iraq) and tie their hands behind their backs.”

But this blogger argues, “It is simple: if you kill civilians, damage their homes and destroy their crops, you are not going to win their support. Better for the commander to hold fire and let an insurgent get away than kill an innocent.”

Here Matt Hayes reasons that when at war,“Unfortunately, these casualties are inevitable.”

Are civilian death justifiable? And if so how many?

47 Responses to “What’s an acceptable amount of civilian deaths?”

  1. 1 audre
    February 22, 2010 at 16:04

    Now isn’t this an interesting question? I wonder if we will have the courage to think deeply about it. It is not just about who dies and how many; it is about the deeply rooted philosophy of war and protection.

  2. 2 Peter Calabar
    February 22, 2010 at 16:08

    Sometimes it appears dead certain one could die of laughter watching the way the liberalist west conceives of warfare today. Why, my little six year old cousin could organize a successful insurgency against the US and the UK and get away with it without suffering a scratch. No wonder the Taliban are having such a cake-walk for all the allied troops on the ground over there.

    I’m not saying you should be unconcerned about civilian casualties, but even a goat-herder in furthest Gugughistan would have found out by now your childish scruples over civies suffering broken toe-nails and would be totally brainless if he didn’t know what to do. I know exactly what I would do!

    So, please, give us all a break and either fight your war, or – for the love of God – pull your troops out and spare us the incredulity and befuddlement of hearing you bleat about this new discovery that-hey!-shells aren’t so smart afterall and do indeed kill unarmed civilians huddled next to nasty insurgents to achieve that exact purpose.

  3. 3 steve
    February 22, 2010 at 16:11

    There always has be en, and always will be, civilian deaths when it comes to war. Given humans are a violent species, there will always be war, hence there will always be civilian deaths.

    The civilian deaths in today’s conflicts fought by the west are miniscule compared to WW2, Korea, or the Vietnam wars.

    Why is the President of Afghanistan calling out NATO but not the suicide bombings targetting civilians and police? Why is there only outrage when nonmuslims do the killing?

    • 4 viola
      February 23, 2010 at 19:43

      Are those serious questions? My guess is that he has to so he doesn’t further alienate the population of Afghanistan and the rest of the Muslim world. It’s likely a public stance. Neither Karzai nor any anyone else can seriously think a no-civilian casualties war can be conducted against an enemy like the Taliban. That would require someone a lot dumber than he seems to be. What’s less understandable is why he thinks his fellow Afghans and the rest of the Muslim world believe his public stance or even demand he take such a stance.

      I don’t think any war deaths are acceptable. Unfortunately, it seems they are necessary if you actually want to win.

  4. 5 patti in cape coral
    February 22, 2010 at 17:09

    The only way to avoid civilian deaths is not to have war, period. I guess if we determined there are no acceptable amounts of civilian deaths we wouldn’t be able to wage war and other solutions would have to be found. I know, I’m just dreaming…

  5. February 22, 2010 at 17:26

    Until now i dont think the western forces get it. This “war” will never end by means of force. If one taliban fighter is killed among three civilians, five more will assume the fight. It was and still believe it is never about might but an ideology. A noble idea that most Afghanis relate to and are willing to take a bullet for. So killing civilians actualy defeats the entire purpose of war atleast the purpose of this war and its not acceptable.

  6. 7 steve
    February 22, 2010 at 17:29

    Wow, it’s great Obama won that Nobel Peace Prize. I’m sure other winners are responsible for as many civilian deaths. Oh wait, he’s not Bush so he’s not a war criminal, etc..

  7. 9 zb
    February 22, 2010 at 18:16

    Clearing Civilian residence area in hundereds or thousands sq.km area at a time what is guarantee that Afghanistan Civilian Population of 30 Million is not reducing rapidly in hundreds of thousands at a time.What guarantee that these
    soldiers are NATO run not in lieu of trade soldiers in lieu of acquiring free land free mines free oil and uranium and Opium fields.Looking into Medals and infrastructure of UK alone what guarantee even UK Soldiers at home and abroad are not working as soldiers of fortune with merciless Civilian Killings
    everywhere (let alone) Afghanistan.

  8. 10 subra
    February 22, 2010 at 18:18

    Now the strangest thing is what are those civilians doing in a war zone?? They had been requested to evacuate the region but they remained overthere, for what purpose and why? This is the question.
    Now the moralistic west are damn worried why the civilians have been killed. Anybody ignoring the fire power in action will surely die with abullet. Don’t tell that these Afghans are such idiots that they can’t understand that there is death in the battle zone.

  9. 11 Kenneth Ingle
    February 22, 2010 at 19:01

    Taking into account that there is no good reason any soldiers from other countries to be in Afganistan, the answer must be “none.”

  10. February 22, 2010 at 19:03

    International Humanitarian law was formulated to bring about “humane war” and “just war”..Yet the reality remains there is nothing known as that! This question can hardly be answered because wars are more complex than we read or hear or talk about. The important thing is to ensure that complete populations are not wiped off on pretext of battle zone casualties.

  11. 13 Idris Dangalan
    February 22, 2010 at 19:50

    Killing civilian is odd and wish to banning it permenantly.

  12. 14 JanB
    February 22, 2010 at 20:31

    Still, kuddo’s to the BBC for even publishing press releases about the Taliban using human shields and correctly publishing corrections on the same front page where the initial story was published (such as that case with the civilians in Marjah who turned out to have been forced to stay in their house while Taliban shot at NATO soldiers from the windows). It should be common practice but in practice few newscasters still adhere to it.

    “A: The Americans don’t fire back for fear of causing civilian casualties, leaving the Taliban free to use the place as a launch site or more; and B: The Americans do fire back, killing civilians in the process and thus giving the Taliban a nice little international PR coup.”

    That’s considering the troops even know about the civilians inside. Often (such as in Marjah) they don’t know, they fire and later find the bodies of civilian hostages inside the building, of course such subtleties are usually looked over by the media, they just want a big juicy headline, the truth is secondary.

  13. 15 wii mii
    February 22, 2010 at 20:56

    No civilian deaths are acceptable – Afghanistan was invaded. The west has been in there years but have not solved any of the problems. In fact you could argue that they have made it worse.
    When the Taliban were in control they had managed to reduce the levels of Opium production to its lowest level now production is back up. In these early stages we should have worked with the the Taliban not gone in all guns blazing. Typical example of western supremacy.
    So the deaths of these innocent people are not acceptable.

  14. 16 Hoosain Jacobs
    February 22, 2010 at 22:05

    First of all ,what a silly question to ask.Would you allow for a quota of innocent Men,Women and children to die on a quota bases.These people are the inhabitants of that country.Their country is invaded by foreign forces .They symphatise with the resistance fighters and give them moral support, some of them are family and close relatives.Now the invaders expect the population to turn againt;s their own blood and assist the invaders.What happens next is what so every often happens Innocent men,women and children are slaughtered. It has now become the Killing Field of Afghanistan.Their is no honour for a foreign soldier killed in battle He died fighting the the innocent.His relatives are beguiled when his dead body is sent home,draped in a flag.There is no honour for him ,his life became a curse.He was made to believe he was fighting a just war.Those who sent him are beginning to question themselves, alas it is to late ,another death,another life wasted.Let wisdom prevail.

  15. 17 Jaime Saldarriaga
    February 22, 2010 at 22:37

    Acceptable to whom? To God, it is zero.

  16. 18 passingby
    February 23, 2010 at 04:12

    What’s an acceptable amount of civilian deaths? if the american or anyone learn a thing about the Russian/afghan war or american/Vietnam war, people would know the answer well by now.

    what has the american learn from Vietnam? nothing.
    need more to advice them? no more.
    let have the dead, the war as much as long as they want.

  17. 19 JanB
    February 23, 2010 at 11:46

    Still, kuddo’s to the BBC for even publishing press releases about the Taliban using human shields and correctly publishing corrections on the same front page where the initial story was published (such as that case with the civilians in Marjah who turned out to have been forced to stay in their house while Taliban shot at NATO soldiers from the windows). It should be common practice but in practice few newscasters still adhere to it.

  18. 20 Ibrahim in UK
    February 23, 2010 at 12:17

    0 is the acceptable amount, and that’s what all sides should be working towards. Anything more than 0 is either incompetence, negligence or criminal, and all should be addressed.
    Look at it another way.
    There’s a group of 5 terrorists, holding an American civilian hostage. Would the US just bomb the place killing the terrorists and the civilian too? No, that would be an unacceptable trade-off. All civilians should be treated as the “American”.
    The other side may not abide by these rules… but we are supposed to be better than them, not just in grand words but in actions too.

  19. 21 Subhash C Mehta
    February 23, 2010 at 13:56

    No deaths of the innocents are justifiable in any kind of war. Here, in this case, one of the intentions of the war is to protect the civilians from the terrorists; It was just that the deaths were caused accidently, due to some error in collation and/or dissemination of the information on the enemy whereabouts/movements. I am of the opinion, that, in cases of the terrorists’ movements in vehicles, and their hidings in the built-up accommodation in close vicinity of the public habitations, the information must be cross-checked and confirmed, before any attack is launched against them.

  20. 22 Frank in Boston
    February 23, 2010 at 14:12

    The acceptable amount of civilian deaths is whatever it takes to accomplish the objective.

    Civilians must be enlisted in the fight against extremists such as Al Qaida, Hamas, Hezbollah or the Taliban, or against drug cartels operating in their midst. The only way that will happen is if they fear the good guys more than the bad guys. They need to be taught that if they’re not with us, they better get out of the way because they might get killed when we come in to do the job ourselves.

    The problem with Vietnam was not civilian deaths, it was demographics. The baby boom generation was of draft age, and used anti-violence arguments to dodge the draft. There were simply far too many of us who were registered to vote for the politicians to ignore us. If that were to happen today, the outcome would most likely be different.

    • 23 Ibrahim in UK
      February 23, 2010 at 15:03

      The question assumes a war where we in the West are the ones carrying out a mission in someone else’s land.
      Supposing we were carrying out a mission in our own land. How many of our own civilians are we willing to sacrifice to defeat some internal threat?
      Take it another step. Supposing an external threat is carrying out a mission in our own land (e.g. because they don’t like Western foreign policy etc). How many deaths of our own civilians would we consider acceptable to be killed by the invading force?

      • 24 aungar
        February 23, 2010 at 19:15

        I totally agree with you. I know how I felt when my closest and dearest sister was murdered by a mentally unstable idiot in my country of origin. The fact that the nasty idiot killed himself later did not help my feelings of anger and sadness and I blamed the society in which we lived. I came from a country where weapons can be bought easily. There, people can get killed (despite being Buddhist) for upsetting the wrong people; when corrupt people are upset by honest people; when powerful people are challenged; etc. We are lucky in the West that people tend to value lives more. That is why we should never allow corruption, power&money, prejudice and personal views to rule over the country. I hate wars and wish everyone in the world would be happy and kind to one another so that there were no wars. People should ask themselves why they want more than they need given that they can take nothing with them when they die; why they kill others given that they love themselves and their own family; why they say they fight for ‘peace’ or why they kill others to save lives.

  21. 25 Kev in Canada
    February 23, 2010 at 15:48

    Either we fight a war or we don’t. If we are unwelcome in any country lets pull out and let them get on with their own affairs BUT if you attack my country or sell drugs to my country we reserve the right to bomb the poppy fields or military camps into oblivian and we will not send troops in to help clear up the mess. So either shut up or get your country sorted out.

    We would never have won WW2 with this sort of bleeding heart liberalism. Think about that.

    • 26 aungar
      February 23, 2010 at 19:26

      I am not sure who started attacking whom first. Of course, growing and trading illegal drugs is wrong, but if people in the West or developed countries refuse to buy them or use them, no one will make money from the illegal drugs. Blaming the manufacturers of illegal drugs is similar to blaming the manufacturers of alcohol and cigarettes. Would you bomb the factories that manufacture weapons, alcohol and cigarettes too ? We teach children to negotiate and talk to reach a peaceful solution. We teach them not to hit or fight when they are angry, but to calm down and to find a peaceful solution. Why do we use force and war to solve problems ?

      • 27 Kev in Canada
        February 23, 2010 at 20:14

        Because you cannot reason with addiction, the only way to combat drugs is at the source. Of course we blame the manufacturers of alcohol and cigarettes because once they give you your first free try you are hooked.

        You are correct about what we teach our children, have you seen the footage of children carrying guns in Afghanistan and Iraq. Thats what they have been taught.

        We cannot win this war the conventional way, we just offer more targets so leave them alone but strike with our technology when they present drugs or violence.

        We only offer troops as a mediation to the rest of the world, lets stop and just say no more.

  22. 28 TomK in Mpls
    February 23, 2010 at 15:51

    Never. But the better question is, when will it never again be necessary? Once again we try to deny human nature.

  23. 29 jens
    February 23, 2010 at 16:02

    War without civilian casualties is utopia. all of the ones critizising the usa should be reminded of the civilian casualties on 9/11. it was al-quada AND the taliban that started this war, because they thought the USA and the world will not retaliate. they made a miscalculation and are now at the other end of the stick. if they cared so much about civilians they would not have attacked on 9/11.

    • 30 aungar
      February 23, 2010 at 20:35

      I don’t think we know for sure who really attacked those poor unfortunate people in NYC on 9/11. Of course, it was a real tragedy to watch the horrid act carried out by some callous people, but do we want to behave like them ? Sensible normal people love themselves and their families. People who could take their own lives and others’ must be very desperate and could see no way out. All people, no matter what race or nationality are worth a lot more than anyone could describe in words, especially to their loved ones. It usually takes nine months to carry a pregnancy and about 18 years (older in some other countries) before you can be independent from your parents who care for you and your health. So, it’s so sad to see that life being taken away in a few seconds by callous or careless acts. Treasure every life and natural resources around us and only have children if you can look after them properly. If we all think more deeply and take a look at things from others’ perspectives as well, we may achieve a better and happier world.

    • 31 Ifiok Ededeh
      February 24, 2010 at 13:43

      I think I’m equally dreaming, Patti. I quite agree with all your comments. You share my points of view.

  24. 32 Irene in Texas
    February 23, 2010 at 17:06

    I heard an NBC broadcaster refer to the death of “more than two dozen” Afghan civilians on T.V. this morning. Disgusting. They are human beings, not eggs.

  25. 33 JanB
    February 23, 2010 at 18:48

    “it was al-quada AND the taliban that started this war, because they thought the USA and the world will not retaliate. they made a miscalculation and are now at the other end of the stick. if they cared so much about civilians they would not have attacked on 9/11.


    Actually, they hoped the US would retaliate, so they could fight on their own turf (Afghanistan) with lots of civilian casualties so the America’s international standing would plummet (they would always be blamed on the Americans), fellow Muslims would be inspired and America would be drained financially.

    Well, America took the bait…

  26. 34 Elias
    February 23, 2010 at 20:52

    Acceptable amount of civilians deaths?, not a single one!, However war is war and it cant be avoided at all. In all wars civilians have died. President Karzi is talking nonsense, civilian deaths can only be avoided by having no war.

  27. 35 jens
    February 23, 2010 at 20:56


    no they seriously thought that the usa would fire some cruise missles and that would be it. they never thought that the us would move an army accross the world to go to war in a god forsaken place.

  28. 36 littlechildren
    February 23, 2010 at 22:36

    What kind of a question is this? In war anything goes….especially morality and humanity. It does not matter one iota how many civilians are killed and anyone who stands on a pedestal and says otherwise is a naive idiot. Look at Gaza and Lebanon…where was the outrage there? There was none.

  29. 37 Ronald in Canada
    February 24, 2010 at 00:43

    In the US they are called “innocent bystanders” when killed in shoot-outs and treated as “victims” of criminal activity. In Afghanistan and Pakistan the Western media calls them “civilians” when killed under misguided fire and treats the deaths as unfortunate “collateral damage” of a “righteous” war. The problem is that the people of Afghanistan and Pakistan see themselves as the innocent victims of American criminal activity taking place on their soil and no amount of playing with words is going to change this. The US fails to understand that the improper use of military might means losing the war.

  30. 38 Gary
    February 24, 2010 at 02:13

    Did anyone ever see MASH which outlined two rules of war. Rule number one is that people die. Rule number two is that you can’t change rule number one. It is a war zone, so if I was a civilian I would get me and my family as far away as possible. Come back when it is over. Everyone knows that the Taliban use civilians as shields. If you stay don’t go crying to the world if you get injured or a member of your family gets killed. This is war. Next topic please.

  31. 39 Ibrahim in UK
    February 24, 2010 at 11:30

    Whether you believe it was Al-Qaeda or not who started the war depends on where you start counting. Did the world start on 9/11? Or with the first Gulf War? Or during the Iran-Iraq war? Or in Lebanon? Or in the coups in Iraq? Or with toppling the democracy in Iran? Or with helping Israel defeat the Arabs? US interference in the Middle East has gone on since long before the Taleban and Al-Qaeda existed, and millions of civilians have died as a consequence.
    Anyone remembering the 3000 civilians of 9/11 should also remember the 1million civilians dying in the Iraq sanctions several years earlier:

  32. February 24, 2010 at 14:36

    The sad truth is that had there been this style of “if-it-bleeds-it-leads” 24/7 news reporting via TV, web or radio and rating whoring of the media back in 1944 even the giant success of D-Day landing and its relatively mininimal casualties would be presented by the blood-thirsty, Stockholm-syndrome-suffering media as a total failure and disaster.

  33. 41 Ronald Almeida
    February 24, 2010 at 17:35

    A single death is one too many.

  34. 43 jens
    February 24, 2010 at 18:08


    our involvment in afghanistan is a direct consequence of 9/11, period. this has nothing to do with iraq or iran or whatever other mess in the middle east. THEY attacked america and we went to war against them, it is as simple as that. i personally would have torched the taliban a long time ago. these guys a religiouse fanatic thugs, nothing else. they stone women, whip children and are about as brutal and intolerant as one can get. quite frankly i care more for my lawn than i care for these animals.

  35. 44 T
    February 25, 2010 at 05:04

    Zero. And if you think otherwise, how would you feel if your family or a friend were killed?

  36. 45 jens
    February 25, 2010 at 16:09


    the point is simple, if you want zero casualties don’t go to war. will that ever happen, NO. as i grow older the less I see the world through my pink tainted glasses.

    • 46 Hoosain Jacobs
      February 27, 2010 at 17:33

      You are asking how many? Lets say, maybe on a quota basis 2 Afghan lives and say maybe +- 200 Western so;diers, remember they are also human. I am sure this will stop this bitter war,and for those intent warmongers to leave the occupation of foreign lands. Whether its a cvilian,a soldier or s gauerella fighter its a life lost.

  37. 47 Jagjit Singh Mukandpuri
    February 27, 2010 at 13:57

    The deaths, in particular of civilians can never be justified. With the deaths of civilians motive is completly changes.

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