Tadd Sholtis at Quatto Zone raises an interesting COIN question. (Don’t worry, At Park Place, I haven’t forgotten that I owe you something.) He muses over what the Taliban are doing with their message about air strikes and CIVCAS (Civilian Casualties.) Everyone knows that GEN McChrystal has stated that our metrics will be centered around protecting civilians… including from us… and that he has moved a few things around the house. What the Taliban want is an intriguing question, though. Let’s take a peek into what that clever manjammie-wearing Mao-trained thug may be thinking.
Sholtis poses this question about the demands from the Taliban that the coalition end air strikes in certain areas in return for permitting PFC Bergdahl to continue to draw breath and make propaganda tapes for them:
Why do this unless air power represents a significant threat to the organization? And while it’s clear that the Taliban try to provoke strikes that will cause civilian casualties, it’s unclear whether this tactic is designed to whip up popular rage or encourage restrictive rules of engagement that will grant insurgents more breathing room. The answer is probably both.
Money. Right on the money. It is both. Remember a few things when looking at an insurgency;
You have to listen to the insurgent IO first. Not just truly listen, but listen from the viewpoint of the population. The population is what gives the insurgent his strength. The population is the water in which the fish (insurgent) swims. The population provides sustenance, information, shelter, concealment and recruits, as well as other aids. Without the population, the insurgent is irrelevant. What matters is not necessarily what is true, but what the population believes to be true. The insurgent IO (what is also called propaganda) is the conversation, the love call, of the insurgent. It is his attempt to either woo and seduce or to intimidate. The insurgent is a date-rapist. If the population buys his pickup lines and gives up the support willingly, so much the better; but if force is required, he’s prepared and willing for that, too.
The message about the air strikes is two things at once. First, it is in support of the message that the United States and her allies are forces of occupation attempting to dominate Afghanistan and all Afghans. His message is that we simply do not care about Afghan lives, especially Muslim Afghan lives. That would be just about… all of them. The implication is that the Taliban does care about Afghan lives; that they are the defenders of Islam, Afghan sovereignty and Afghan lives.
Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain… the Afghan civilians killed by insurgents. That’s the other side of the coin (pardon the pun.) That supports a whole ‘nother message.
Secondly, it is an attempt to force us to quiver our most feared arrows. Air power is a decisive edge in any engagement. Their objective is to get us to shoot ourselves in the foot either way. If they can goad us into the indiscriminate use of air power, then they can portray us as completely unmindful of Afghan lives in the pursuit of our goal of world domination. This supports their messages locally, nationally and even internationally. Is it believable?
Do you ever read the bizarre-far lefty blogs? Hell, some of our own citizens willingly further this Taliban IO. Yep, it’s believable to enough people to keep repeating it.
Failing that, if they can reduce their own casualties and preserve their strength, they bring themselves closer to having the strength to enter the Strategic Counterattack Phase of insurgency. This is a Maoist insurgency doctrinal term that we have heard the enemy actually use in communications from commanders to subordinates in the field in Afghanistan.
Folks, while we are struggling to learn Counterinsurgency Doctrine, the enemy is well-versed in Insurgency Doctrine. These guys may not always be accurate as can be with their weapons, but they are plenty smart as insurgents.
Just because the Taliban portray themselves as the defenders of Afghan lives and property doesn’t mean it’s so; but that doesn’t matter. What matters is how the population sees it. If they see the Coalition as willing to bomb civilians in a heartbeat, slow to admit the truth and having been caught in several untruths (another word for, oh… I don’t know… maybe… “lies?”) then the insurgent wins. We can see that the Taliban are perfectly willing to shoot at us from occupied houses or villages. We can see that the Taliban will slip us information about a massing of forces and get us to bomb a wedding. We can see them endanger civilian lives with reckless abandon. It matters not what we can see.
It matters what the man on the street sees… through the lens of the insurgent message.
All too often we have obliged him. We are so eager to kill the enemy that we can usually be counted on to reflexively lash out with as much firepower as we can get on that target. If we made tactical nukes available and didn’t make it too complicated to use them, I guarantee that someone would have employed one in some valley in Afghanistan. We like to swat flies with bricks.
There is another side to this coin (ooops, did it again…) and that is that the insurgent tells you how to kick his ass. He tells you what is important. If it’s not a deception, which is possible, he may be telling you where he is planning something or where you have hurt him badly. Why did he specify districts? We really need to take a look at that. What can we determine about him from his message?
When we listen to the enemy, he tells us how he plans to beat us. He tells us what is wrong with the government that, if we fix that problem, will alleviate some conditions that cause people to support him… like the courts in Wardak and Khost. In this case, if we listen to his message and watch the popular response, we can see that killing civilians hurts us and helps him. If we become very careful about civilian lives, even at a bit greater risk to ourselves, we take this away from him. He will always attempt to use it if we make an error, but we can take that high ground from him. That doesn’t mean that we can never use air power, but it does mean that we must be exceedingly careful so as not to feed the fish. Then we can put a few things in the water that the fish will find irritating; such as the Coalition and Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) being the ones who are concerned about Afghan lives while the Taliban kills innocent civilians in their terror operations or in offensive operations against the Coalition and ANSF. We can coopt his message.
We can salt the water of our fresh water fish. Go pour some salt in your goldfish bowl and see what happens.
Overall, any anti-Coalition message or attack is to hasten the departure of the Coalition members and leave the Afghan Government naked like Janet Leigh in the shower. Any attack on the ANSF is to discredit or weaken the Afghan Government and lessen its legitimacy in the eyes of the people. Any attack on the people is meant to show them that the government and Coalition cannot protect those who side with them. Any economic action is meant to make the people more dependent on the Taliban for support (poppy is a good example) or more willing to believe that the government will not or can not help improve their lot in life.
There are lots of ways that the enemy tells us how to beat him. He pretty much tells us exactly how to beat him. All we have to do is listen.
First, we have to stop feeding the fish.