Sunday, September 27, 2009
The U.S. military's stepped-up communications effort included releasing this photo of an Afghan commando.
The United States and its allies in Afghanistan must "wrest the information initiative" from the Taliban and other insurgent groups that have undermined the credibility of the Kabul government and its international backers, according to the top U.S. and NATO commander in the country.
"The information domain is a battlespace," Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal wrote in an assessment made public on Monday, adding that the allies need to "take aggressive actions to win the important battle of perception."
As an initial step, McChrystal wants to change the goal of public relations efforts in Afghanistan from a "struggle for the 'hearts and minds' of the Afghan population to one of giving them 'trust and confidence' " in themselves and their government. At the same time, he said, more effort should be made to "discredit and diminish insurgents and their extremist allies' capability to influence attitudes and behavior in Afghanistan."
One way to accomplish that, McChrystal wrote, is to target insurgent networks "to disrupt and degrade" their effectiveness. Another is to expose what he calls the insurgents' "flagrant contravention of the principles of the Koran," including indiscriminate use of violence and terrorism, and attacks on schools and development projects.
McChrystal's approach mirrors one that U.S. intelligence operatives are taking covertly, with some success, in the Middle East, where direct and indirect support is being given to Islamic leaders who speak out against terrorists. Michael E. Leiter, director of the National Counterterrorism Center, said last year that the goal is to show "that it is al-Qaeda, not the West, that is truly at war with Islam."
Echoing that idea, McChrystal recognized in his report that Afghans traditionally communicate by word of mouth. He called for better exploitation of those "more orthodox methods" -- getting "authoritative figures" such as religious leaders and tribal elders to deliver the messages "so that they are credible."
One of the main changes from the current approach should be creating "opportunities for Afghans to communicate as opposed to attempting to always control the message," McChrystal wrote.
Another element he wants changed is the military's public responsiveness to incidents involving U.S. or allied forces that result in Afghan civilian deaths. Overreliance on firepower that kills civilians and destroys homes "severely damaged" the coalition's legitimacy in the eyes of Afghans, he noted, saying the Taliban publicized such incidents.
New procedures must be developed for sharing information about such events, he wrote, so that when they happen, "we are first with the truth."
Read the full article on teh Washington Post website