I read an article written by David Killcullen, one of the world’s top counter-insurgency men. He stated that the populace in a counter-insurgency want to know the rules that have been set in place for them. They want to know their boundaries, what will bring punishment and what will bring reward.
I believe that one of the biggest failures of the last 8 years in the war in Afghanistan is the lack of effort in reporting the real reasons and intentions for America being in the country in the first place. Since General Petraeus took over, there’s been a concerted effort to rectify this, but there’s a long way to go.
As Washington Post writer, David Ignatius points out, according to recent polls, Afghan haven’t a clue as to why Americans are in their backyard.
“America’s first problem in Afghanistan is that the Afghan people in the key battleground don’t understand why we’re there: When pollsters read a simple summary of the Sept. 11, 2001, attack and its aftermath to a sample of 1,000 young men in Helmand and Kandahar provinces, only 8 percent said they knew about this event.“
Nature abhors a vacuum. And so it is with information and propaganda. Whenever Coalition Forces fail to fill information gaps, we can be sure the enemy will oblige. Add to this the propensity of people in the region to believe the wildest of mythology–a neck-tie is a secret symbol of Christianity, Osama Bin Laden is a CIA operative–and you have a formula for unending war. Many Afghans, since they may not have even heard of 9-11, can only assume that America is in-country to do what every other invader has tried to do: Become a colonial power. And since America is primarily a Christian power, we must want to destroy Islam, too. No Afghan tribe that believes these things will ever fully support our efforts. And we need full support if the people are to be the eyes that find insurgents, not just a level of support that takes our money and goes about enabling the Taliban. The Taliban aggressively speads its message and rules through Shabnamah or Night Letters as well as face to face contact. The message and rules? Cooperate with the Coalition and you die. The Taliban has won the information war in to this point in Afghanistan. After researching the subject for an intelligence paper I wrote, I believe it is the number one reason that this war has lasted so long.
In a land rife with illiteracy, getting the word out is a huge task. But it is doable. When I visited a refugee camp in Afghanistan, I saw 25,000 inhabitants whom were ripe for Taliban picking. I made sure when I spoke with the camps leader to ask him why he thought America was in Afghanistan. I also told him that he needs to tell all of his people that America is here to fight al-Qaeda and trans-national terrorists, that American soldiers don’t want to spend years in his country; they want to go back to their family and friends. But we needed his help.
Every leader that interfaces with various tribes in Afghanistan should have a list of things that they tell the people. On that list should be an explanation for American presence and the rules that the people are expected to follow: Do this and we help you. Do this and we kill you or arrest you. The messaging should also include a laundry list of all the horrible things that the Taliban does, and a negation of the myth (propagated as much by Western media as the Taliban) that Americans kill more civilians than the insurgents do. All of this should be SOP with every engagement.