Monday, September 21, 2009

Afghanistan and Gaza

Today, the Washington Post leaked an edited version of the US Strategic Assessment on Afghanistan. Particularly interesting is this excerpt from page 46 [ISAF = International Security Assistance Force (NATO), GIRoa = Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan]:

"Civilian casualties (CIVCAS) and damage to public property (collateral damage), no matter how caused, undermine support for GIRoa, ISAF, and the international community in the eyes of the Afghan population. Although the majority of CIVCAS are caused by insurgents, the Afghan people hold ISAF to a higher standard. Strict comparison of amount of damage caused by either side are unhelpful."

The recommendation in and of itself is unsuprising. The report's authors (including Fred and Kim Kagan, Andrew Exum, and Col. Chris Kolenda) are some of the leading proponents of population-centric counterinsurgency. The recommendation reflects the cutting edge of strategy at the Department of Defense.

But this strategy represents a stark difference with Israeli policy.

"Civilian casualties...no matter how caused...undermine support." This excerpt sums up the bottom line of US counterinsurgency strategy. The US is not interested in which casualties are whose fault. They understand that ultimately, any civilian casualty is a loss to them because it reduces trust in the forces of moderation including the US and NATO forces, government and armies of Afghanistan, and moderate political voices. Conversely, the Israeli government's policy in Cast Lead was to see civilian casualties as an inevitable means to an end rather than seeing reduction of civilian casualties as an end itself. Doing so would have swung the population more against Hamas, making intelligence gathering and breaking up terrorist networks much easier for Israel. This in turn would have translated into more efficacy using less money and human lives.

Secondly, the Strategic assessment is extremely self-critical. The report states that "Despite the efforts of ISAF and GIRoa, the insurgents currently have the initiative." It would be difficult to imagine a situation in which an Israeli Ministry of Defense report would say "Despite the best efforts of the IDF, Hamas currently has the initiative," even if such statements are true. Tactically, the IDF is a very creative and flexible organization. However, it has demonstrated a lack of strategic flexibility in response to threats from Hizbullah and Hamas. It is critical that the symbiotic relationship between the US and Israel include not only arms deals but also a dialogue on strategic thinking.

As an end note, one of the interesting manifestations of this symbiotic relationship is the report's recommendation that the US make declassifying images of attacks easier in order to publish them in the PR war. This recommendation is empirically supported by Israel's use of a Youtube channel to show attacks during Cast Lead. The channel became the highest viewed on Youtube and was a very successful means of disseminating information. This channel is an example the US can not only study, but follow when implementing the recommendation.

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