An article on UN efforts to monitor civilian casualties during the ongoing war in Afghanistan has been published in Humanitarian Exchange [ODI-HPN]. The article is by Norah Niland, who was on sabbatical after completing a term as the director of human rights in the UN Assistance Mission to Afghanistan [UNAMA]. The piece explores efforts to:
"...mobilise attention in decision-making circles to the costs of war on Afghan civilians. It focuses on the role that systematic monitoring and investigation by the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) Human Rights (HR) team, coupled with routine public UN reporting, has played in supporting advocacy aimed at enhancing protection for people whose lives are at imminent risk."
Unfortunately, the article is rather short on detail about the methods employed and doesn't really discuss how reliable the data can be, given the circumstances they are operating within. However, it is an interesting read and outlines, for example, how evidence was used to disprove ISAF accounts of an air strike in Shindand, in 2008. This event subsequently led ISAF to establish a new Civilian Casualty Tracking Cell.
The article also discusses efforts from both sides of the conflict to take steps to reduce civilian casualties and to been seen to do so, and concludes on a positive note.
"A multitude of factors shape the scale and nature of warfare in Afghanistan. However, as the issue of civilian deaths has acquired strategic significance, belligerents, mindful of public perceptions, have taken efforts to protect civilian lives. Thus, while civilian deaths continue to increase, they have done so at a slower pace than the increase in conflict-related incidents."