Saturday, August 13, 2016

Dead Men Don't Tell Tales--But Their Families Do

A line from a Vietnam War movie highlights the problem with body counts. In the line, a helicopter door gunner says that any running Vietnamese male was a Viet Cong combatant; and any Vietnamese male standing still was a well disciplined Viet Cong.

Why I don't like body counts as a public metric of success even though I'm all in favor of killing jihadis as fast as we can:

Egypt, Israel and most Egyptians all agree that Islamic terrorists are a threat to everyone. Egypt has largely contained its Islamic terrorist problem in northern Sinai, near Gaza. Islamic terrorists are having a hard time getting much traction (and widespread support) in the rest (more populous sections) of the country because recent experience has shown that more Islamic terrorist violence simply makes the economic problems worse and the Egyptian police even more violent and abusive to everyone when there is a major counter-terrorism effort. Meanwhile the few new freedoms obtained as a result of the 2011 revolution are disappearing. Media has been less restricted since 2011 but new laws are being enacted that revive the bad old prohibitions. It’s becoming easier to get away with corrupt acts and avoid any punishment. This includes immunity for soldiers and police who frequently kill civilians and claim the dead are Islamic terrorists or some other form of criminal. It is believed that most of the “Islamic terrorists” currently reported as killed are actually innocent civilians. [emphasis added]

Killing civilians in the Sinai peninsula while marking the dead as terrorists doesn't actually win the war against the jihadis.

All it does is let Cairo pretend they are striking blows against the jihadis while turning the population against the government forces because the troops are acting like a foreign occupying power that just kills anyone they run across (funny enough, we were accused of doing that in Iraq but American troops were actually careful--careful enough to convince our Sunni Arab enemies to switch sides to fight al Qaeda at our side).

Whether or not that anger at the government killings leads to locals siding with ISIL or other jihadis is the biggest question. Although if it just inspires locals to rebel against control from Cairo, that's a problem for Egypt, too.

How long before Sinai simply rebels against Egyptian government control, drawing support from a safe haven in Hamas-controlled Gaza?

UPDATE: Remember that we have an interest in keeping Sinai quiet because we are a significant part of the non-UN Multinational Force and Observers peacekeeping mission on the Israel-Egypt border.