Saturday, June 20, 2009

When Firepower Works Against You

Secretary Gates spoke on our need to reduce Afghan civilian casualties:

Another important takeaway from last week, and one of the highest priorities for General McChrystal, is a commitment from NATO to do everything possible to prevent civilian casualties during ISAF military operations. It is clear that we need to do much more to overcome what I believe is one of our greatest strategic vulnerabilities. The Afghan people must be reassured that U.S. and NATO forces are there as friends, partners and, along with Afghan security forces, they're protectors as well.

Yes, it is unfair that we risk our troops to avoid Taliban-set slaughters so they can get a good story about us killing innocents. But we have to do this to win the war:

Yet we will do what we need to do in the area of restricting our use of air power rather than whine about the unfairness of hobbling our air power. That's the smart thing to do. In the long run we lose more troops if the Afghans reject our presence than we will lose due to more restricted air support.

Frustrating, to be sure, but smart. COIN isn't a firepower-centric fight.

If you doubt the wisdom of risking our troops in the short run to win in the long run (and avoid even more casualties), would you really want to reap what the Taliban get for their efforts to kill civilians?

While the Taliban have been successful with their human shield tactics, they have done so at great cost to the popularity of the Islamic radical group. The Taliban were never noted for their desire to be popular. These guys are on a mission from God, and earthly trifles do not concern them. While the frequent use of human shields has spared the Taliban some casualties, and sometimes made it easier to escape death or capture (mainly because the propaganda value of dead civilians has caused the rules of engagement for foreign troops to become more restrictive), the practice has increased Afghan hostility to the Taliban. This means that the Taliban increasingly find themselves operating in a hostile environment as they move through Afghanistan.

We're playing it smart. They're playing it stupid. We'll win the battle for hearts and minds. And kill our enemies, too.