News FocusThe War in Afghanistan

Counting the Dead in Afghanistan

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Science  11 Mar 2011:
Vol. 331, Issue 6022, pp. 1256-1260
DOI: 10.1126/science.331.6022.1256

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In January, the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) provided Science with the military's internal record of the death and injury of Afghan civilians, broken down by month, region, weaponry, and perpetrator. By its reckoning, 2537 civilians were killed and 5594 were wounded over the past 2 years, with 12% of those casualties attributed to ISAF forces and the rest to insurgents. In February, after learning that the military was releasing these data, both the United Nations and an Afghan human rights organization agreed to release versions of their own civilian casualty data to Science. Science assembled a team of experts to analyze the released data sets. They conclude that while the war has grown deadlier for Afghan civilians over the past 2 years, ISAF has become a safer fighting force. The majority of deaths, and nearly all of the recent increase, are attributed to indiscriminate attacks by insurgents rather than ISAF soldiers. All of these data, as well as other information never before released, are now freely available online. Taken together, they provide the clearest picture yet of the human cost of the war.