Inevitable casualties of war: Truth and civilians

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We would meet early every morning for an hour-long jog through the snowy streets of Kabul. It was December 2001, just weeks after the US-led Coalition, in collaboration with Afghan military front Northern Alliance, had routed the Taliban from Kabul in the wake of the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Centre.

There were three of us – a brave American young woman named Marla Ruzicka, a happy, yappie dog named Snowy, and myself, at the time a correspondent for French news agency Agence France-Presse.

We would run at dawn past the bakers firing up their ovens, ready to churn out endless loaves of steaming flat bread, past drivers of huge colourful trucks making fires under their vehicles to warm up the engines, past merchants cloaked in blankets on their way to open their stores.

Marla, just 24 years old, was in Kabul to spearhead the Campaign for Innocent Victims in Conflict (CIVIC) NGO she had founded. Her mission was to prove that the Coalition was deliberately under-reporting the number of civilians being killed in their ongoing operations – and to secure compensation for victims.

We would run down to the local football stadium, where just weeks earlier the hardline Taliban had been publicly executing its opponents during the Friday match half-time break.

As we ran round and round the field, we would chat about many things – about the sense of euphoria that had gripped Kabul after the fall of the Taliban, about the endless convoys of trucks from Pakistan bringing in goods that had been outlawed by the Taliban when they controlled the city – toys, video games, Bollywood movies,  cosmetics and horror of horrors, lacy underwear.

But most of all we would talk, angrily and earnestly, about the civilian casualties of the Coalition’s air strikes. About the dead children -- too many dead children.

Marla was passionate about her one-woman quest – exposing the indiscriminate cruelty of Coalition air strikes and trying to secure compensation from Washington for relatives of innocent women, men and children killed and maimed in the bombings.

She believed fervently that one had to be on the ground to get a clearer idea of  the extent of civilian casualties in the world’s conflict zones. And she did her best to get to the site of every air strike in and around Kabul to make her own investigations.

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