The proportionality equation: balancing military objectives with civilian lives in the armed conflict in Afghanistan

Barber, Rebecca 2010, The proportionality equation: balancing military objectives with civilian lives in the armed conflict in Afghanistan, Journal of conflict and security law, vol. 15, no. 3, pp. 467-500, doi: 10.1093/jcsl/krq017.

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Title The proportionality equation: balancing military objectives with civilian lives in the armed conflict in Afghanistan
Author(s) Barber, RebeccaORCID iD for Barber, Rebecca
Journal name Journal of conflict and security law
Volume number 15
Issue number 3
Start page 467
End page 500
Total pages 34
Publisher Oxford University Press
Place of publication Oxford, Eng.
Publication date 2010-12-01
ISSN 1467-7954
Keyword(s) military objectives
civilian lives
armed conflict
military commanders
US commanders
coalition forces
civilian casualties
Summary It is a long-established principle of ‘just war’ theory that military commanders must risk the lives of soldiers before they kill civilians. Recent airstrikes in Afghanistan, called in by US commanders for the purpose of protecting Afghan or coalition forces, and often involving the use of ‘area-effect weapons’ that do not distinguish between civilians and combatants and result in large numbers of civilian casualties, seem to turn this basic principle on its head. This article considers the application of international humanitarian law to military operations in Afghanistan, with a focus on US airstrikes that have resulted in high numbers of civilian casualties. The structure of international military operations in Afghanistan is described, followed by a discussion of the impact of the conflict on the civilian population—measured, for the purpose of this article, in civilian casualties. The article provides an overview of the applicable legal framework (with a focus on the principles of distinction and proportionality), and a detailed analysis of two operations in Afghanistan which were carried out by US forces in circumstances in which scant regard seems to have been paid to the presence of civilians in the target area, and which resulted in significant civilian casualties. The article concludes with a discussion of individual and/or state accountability for violations of international humanitarian law in Afghanistan, and stresses the importance of thorough, independent and transparent investigations into suspected violations.
Language eng
DOI 10.1093/jcsl/krq017
Field of Research 1801 Law
HERDC Research category C1.1 Refereed article in a scholarly journal
Copyright notice ©2010, Oxford University Press
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Document type: Journal Article
Collections: Faculty of Arts and Education
School of Humanities and Social Sciences
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