Afghanistan’s Casualty Data Black Market

Afghanistan’s Casualty Data Black Market

Afghanistan’s Casualty Data Black Market

If you want stats from the government, you better be prepared to pay.


Afghan women and children sit around a grave of a relative who was allegedly killed during the August 22 air strike in Azizabad district of Shindand, west of Kabul, September 9, 2008. Reuters/Mohammad Shoib

There are many challenges in getting hard numbers on casualties in Afghanistan. ISAF limits the release of useful information about the dead—be they insurgents, civilians or allies—necessitating reliance on other sources. Afghan government officials are the next obvious source, but obtaining statistics from that quarter isn’t easy either. Nor is it cheap, as I found in the course of my reporting. 

In one instance, I contacted the media office for the governor of Helmand Province through one of its two official e-mail addresses (a Gmail account). I asked if the office maintained records of civilian casualties resulting from insurgent attacks and ISAF combat operations. I soon received a reply from someone who identified himself as Abdul Matine, but whose e-mail address suggested his name was Jan Mohammad Shirzad. Writing from a separate Gmail account, he told me he had just the statistics I requested and to write him at this second address to clarify matters. I did.  

In his next e-mail, Matine was even more cordial. “You can call me Matt,” he wrote. He did not, however, include any relevant information. There was, he said, an extra step in the process that first needed to be resolved. Matt told me he had spoken with the person who keeps the records for the province. I could get the data, he said, but it was going to cost me. “I talked with him and he told me that he demands the money not as a bribery just that is his income,” he wrote.

According to Matt, paying for material of this sort was standard practice. He also told me this information gatekeeper regularly wrote “long stories and reports for some of the foreign journalists, magazines and other news networks.” If I just arranged payment, the information would be mine. In addition to the statistics, he told me that if I also wanted news items about Helmand, this man could provide them too. 

I responded by telling Matt that even if I had wanted to pay, The Nation probably would not authorize purchase of statistics from a government agency. I then asked which news outlets had paid his colleague in the past. He replied by assuring me that his interest was not money. “I just want to help you about the exact information about the issue,” he wrote. It was the records keeper—who had previously been paid by “many” reporters—who was demanding money for the data. 

When I asked how I could be sure the purchased information was accurate, Matt’s tone changed. It was evident that asking such a question was an affront. “The information that I give you will be official because I will give you governmental counting of casualties,” he wrote. “I will never perform my duty dishonestly.” He then reminded me who held the power in our relationship. “I don’t need your help you need my help.” 

He never did reveal which publications had paid the Helmand Province official for statistics, information or stories. And I never did pay the money or receive official Afghan government statistics on war-related deaths in Helmand. The only number I got from Abdul Matine was a price for the information on civilian casualties: 2,000 American dollars.

Click here to view the interactive database of America’s Afghan Victims


America’s Afghan Victims,” by Bob Dreyfuss and Nick Turse

How the US War in Afghanistan Fueled the Taliban Insurgency,” by Bob Dreyfuss

America’s Lethal Profiling of Afghan Men,” by Nick Turse

Marla Ruzicka’s Heroism,” by Sarah Holewinski

and also online:

Blood Money: Afghanistan’s Reparations Files,” by Nick Turse

Mass-Casualty Attacks in the Afghan War,” by Bob Dreyfuss

Take Action: Demand the US Military Prioritize Civilian Lives

Thank you for reading The Nation!

We hope you enjoyed the story you just read, just one of the many incisive, deeply reported articles we publish daily. Now more than ever, we need fearless journalism that moves the needle on important issues, uncovers malfeasance and corruption, and uplifts voices and perspectives that often go unheard in mainstream media.

Donate right now and help us hold the powerful accountable, shine a light on issues that would otherwise be swept under the rug, and build a more just and equitable future.

For nearly 160 years, The Nation has stood for truth, justice, and moral clarity. As a reader-supported publication, we are not beholden to the whims of advertisers or a corporate owner. But it does take financial resources to report on stories that may take weeks or months to investigate, thoroughly edit and fact-check articles, and get our stories to readers like you.

Donate today and stand with us for a better future. Thank you for being a supporter of independent journalism.

Thank you for your generosity.

Ad Policy