US Afghanistan strategy review falls short on civilian protection and putting Afghans first

By Oxfam

Washington, DC – In response to the US Government’s Afghanistan strategy review made public today, international humanitarian organization Oxfam is concerned about the lack of provisions for civilian protection as well as long-term support for healthcare, education, and women’s rights.
Paul O’Brien, Vice President of Policy and Campaigns in Washington, DC, said:
“The US strategy review released today does not include the critical steps necessary to protect civilians as the responsibility for security is transitioned to the Afghanistan's security forces and the government. The United States and its NATO allies must look beyond growth targets to ensure that the Afghan security forces are adequately trained and mechanisms are put in place to prevent human rights abuses during the transition period. This is critical as the Afghan security forces, in particular the national police, are seen by the majority of Afghans as ineffective, corrupt, or abusive. Dangerous schemes such as the ‘community defense initiatives,’ which support local militia groups to fight the Taliban must be abandoned. These recruits are barely vetted, receive little training, and are often accountable only to the local commanders.
"While the review concluded that progress is being made against al-Qaeda, security for the vast majority of Afghans is rapidly deteriorating, and Oxfam is deeply concerned about the impact of the escalating conflict on civilians. Increased violence in 2011 will likely lead to more civilian casualties, continue to fuel displacement, cut off access to basic services, and reduce the ability of aid agencies to reach those who need assistance most. Practices such as night raids and searches as well as airstrikes have fed Afghan perceptions of international forces as violent and abusive. 
“The strategy review did not emphasize the importance of putting Afghans first by not only focusing on basic services but expanding them and ensuring a long-term commitment to development in Afghanistan. As the presence of coalition forces is reduced, the commitment to programs focusing on health and education should be ramped up, especially as we are seeing gains starting to fade due to insecurity.
“The US government has pledged to press for women's rights in Afghanistan, and the strategy must support these rights. Though improvements have been made in the lives of women and girls since the fall of the Taliban, the United Nations recently reported that Afghan women still suffer horrendous abuse, including forced marriages, causing many women to resort to self-immolation and ‘honor’ killings. Women in public life, such as politicians, police officers, journalists, and human rights activists, are increasingly subject to threats, harassment, and attacks, and perpetrators are rarely brought to justice, creating an atmosphere of impunity and fear. While Oxfam is encouraged by recently stated efforts by Melanne Verveer, the US Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women's Issues, to focus significant resources in Afghanistan toward engaging women as agents of peace, security, and economic growth, this approach must be part of and reflected in the overall strategy.    
“We urge President Obama to consider that a comprehensive, effective US strategy in Afghanistan will need clear steps to protect civilians and put Afghans needs and rights first.” 

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