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Trivia and Discussion: Airstrikes in Afghanistan and Pakistan

Trivia: How many Afghan civilians were killed by airstrikes in 2009? How many Pakistani civilians were killed by drone strikes in 2009? 

Discussion: How do airstrikes and drone strikes affect conflict in Afghanistan and Pakistan? Are either types of strike legal?  

Some facts to guide you:
  • Customary international law calls on parties in war to distinguish between non-combatants and combatants as attacks on civilians are entirely prohibited.
  • U.S. and NATO commander Gen. Stanley McChrystal has issued new guidelines for when air strikes should be used in Afghanistan. The guidelines indicated troops must be sure there are no civilians in the targeted area, unless troops are in imminent danger and cannot retreat.
  • U.S. officials have previously acknowledged that hundreds of Afghan civilians have been killed by U.S. airstrikes.
  • Under customary international law, a state may not exercise its power in any form in the territory of another state unless there’s an agreement between the two states allowing it to do so. In Pakistan’s case, its government has not (publicly) signed any agreements allowing the United States to launch drone strikes in its tribal regions.
  • Although Pakistan’s government has repeatedly criticized the drone strikes, which are highly unpopular among the Pakistani population, as a violation of the country’s sovereignty, it has not filed a formal complaint and many scholars and diplomats believe the government has given the U.S. its tacit consent.
  • Some analysts argue that because the tribal areas are not under effective government control – essentially ungoverned territory – they can be attacked. The Justice Department’s top lawyer, Harold Koh, has declared that drone are strikes legal as they follow two specific laws of war: the principles of distinction and proportionality.

-Carolina Chacon, National Conflicts of Concern Education Coordinator

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