So far this year, 1,500 civilians have been killed in Afghanistan. Most (68 percent) were killed by the Taliban. Most of the rest were killed by Afghan security forces. The smallest number were killed by smart bombs (dropped by foreign air forces), although these smart bomb incidents get the most publicity.
There are actually fewer civilian deaths in Afghanistan, compared to Iraq, because of terrorist attacks. That's because al Qaeda learned their lesson in Iraq, and are not as murderous against uncooperative Afghan tribal leaders as they were against Iraqi ones. This time around, the Taliban seek to either ally with, scare off, or buy off all the tribes in southern Afghanistan, and form a Pushtun coalition capable to defeating the non-Pushtun tribes that comprise the other 60 percent of the Afghan population. At best, that will lead to another civil war. But this reality does not dissuade the Taliban leaders, who believe they are on a Mission From God. And those civilians who are killed while serving as human shields, are declared "involuntary martyrs."
Meanwhile, smart bombs have led to far fewer bombs being dropped. This has led to many changes in the way wars are fought. Keep in mind that during the peak six years of the Vietnam war, 6.7 million tons of bombs were dropped. That was the same rate they were dropped during the major bombing campaigns of World War II. But in eight years of fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq, only 42,000 tons have been dropped. Thus, while in the past, a million tons were dropped a year, for the war on terror, less than 6,000 tons a year were dropped. That means a reduction of over 99 percent. Even when you adjust for the different number of U.S. troops involved, that's still over 97 percent fewer bombs dropped.
It's not only been fewer bombs and missiles, but smaller ones. While during Vietnam the average bomb size was close to 1,000 pounds, now it's less than half that. Weapons like the hundred pound Hellfire missile are more popular with the ground troops, than the 2,000 pound bomb that was so often used in Vietnam.
Most of the bombing is now being done in Afghanistan. In Iraq, less than a ton of bombs a month are being dropped. In Afghanistan, it's more like 100 tons (or less) a month. In Afghanistan, this tonnage has declined over 50 percent in the last year. Partly due to the greater use of smaller bombs and missiles, and partly due to the greater use of civilians as human shields by the Taliban.
This human shield tactic is all part of a clever Taliban effort to exploit local and foreign media. By using civilians as human shields, and getting more Afghan civilians killed, thus forcing the foreigners to change their ROE (Rules of Engagement) to the point that the Taliban can avoid air strikes if they just grab some women and children. About a hundred civilians are killed each month in Afghanistan. Most are killed by the Taliban, but 10-20 percent are killed by American smart bombs, missiles and shells.
The Afghan government can only condemn the Taliban use of terror (murder, kidnapping, arson and looting), but they are expected to do something about the civilian deaths caused by foreign troops. The government is forced, by media stories of the bombing deaths, to call for "fewer civilians deaths." When it's pointed out that this makes it more difficult to fight the Taliban, the Afghans suggest that foreign troops go in and kill the Taliban one by one. But this gets more U.S. and NATO troops killed, and even suggesting this is bad for troop morale. No one likes to discuss this openly, because U.S. and NATO commanders admit, at least off the record, that the lives of their troops are more valuable than those of Afghan civilians being used as human shields. Letting the Taliban get away, because of the use of human shields, is no solution either, because those Taliban will eventually kill more civilians and foreign troops. But the media outcry, often bought and paid for by the Taliban or drug lords, works its magic. The Taliban also use these fatalities to stir up those opposed to foreign troops even being in Afghanistan (an ancient and cherished tradition among many Pushtun tribes), and this results in newsworthy demonstrations and protests.