NATO's Wide-Open Afghanistan Planning

This Reuters piece gives the impression that the NATO alliance is putting the final touches on its post-2014 Afghanistan plan:

U.S. Air Force General Philip Breedlove, who took over as NATO's Supreme Allied Commander Europe in May, said NATO was at an advanced stage of working on a detailed operations plan, or "O" plan, for the post-2014 mission.

"The 'O' plan is very mature, minus a few key pieces (of) which the elephant in the room is the actual numbers and types of forces to be put into the 'O' plan," Breedlove told a group of reporters at NATO's operational headquarters in Mons, Belgium.

"We are still waiting (for) some details from some of the nations in order to absolutely finalize this but we are hoping to deliver this 'O' plan in the latter fall and I think we are within striking distance," he said.

Reading between the lines, it's not hard to see that in fact the alliance's entire post-2014 strategy in Afghanistan remains up in the air. As Breedlove suggests, the number of forces from key members -- and the United States, in particular -- remains unresolved. And as long as that element is missing, it's very hard to see how the organization can have a meaningful strategy.

The Multilateralist

U.N. Says Afghan Civilian Toll on Rise

The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) has produced a gloomy new report on civilian casualties in the country. According to UNAMA's website:

UNAMA documented 1,319 civilian deaths and 2,533 injuries in the first half of 2013, marking increases of 14 per cent in deaths and 28 per cent in injuries over the same period in 2012. This rise reverses the decline observed in 2012 and suggested a return to the trend of 2011 when high numbers of civilian deaths and injuries were documented.

The report attributes 74 per cent of all civil casualties to actions taken by Anti-Government Elements, a rise of 16 per cent over the same period last year 2012. Pro-Government forces were found responsible for nine percent of casualties, 12 per cent of the casualties were unattributed and resulted from ground engagements between Pro-Government Forces and Anti-Government Elements and the remaining five per cent were unattributed, resulting mostly from unexploded ordnance. The annual report prepared by UNAMA has been documenting the deaths and injuries of non-combatants since 2007.

Taliban representatives are taking issue with how the U.N. defines civilians. Via the New York Times:

The Taliban, for its part, rejected the report as little more than a tool of the American strategy. In addition to denouncing the coalition’s responsibility for innocent Afghan deaths, the group took issue with what it viewed as the United Nations’s use of the word civilian to describe government employees, like judicial workers.

“Calling them civilians is Unama’s own judgment,” the statement said, referring to the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan. “We don’t consider people civilians who are directly involved in our country’s occupation.”