It’s hard not to think that the latest “guidance” (if one can call it that) from new Commander of US Forces in Afghanistan David Petraeus wasn’t deliberately floated to the media Monday as part of the Pentagon’s gazillion-dollar strategic communications program. The bullet points in the document read more like those self-empowerment posters people hang in their offices or daily inspirational calendars (maybe I need one, “Those who are lifting the world upward and onward are those who encourage more than criticize” — Elizabeth Harrison)
Lest I criticize too much, let’s first say that on it’s face, the guidance seems innocuous if not smart: “Spend time, listen, consult and drink lots of tea,” or “Work closely with Afghan and international partners. Treat them as brothers-in-arms. Unity and effort of cooperation are not optional,” or “Help our ANSF (Afghan National Security Forces) achieve excellence .. be a good role model,” or “stay true to the values we hold dear. This is what distinguishes us from our enemies.”
One notable: “Beat insurgents and malign actors to the headlines” but “avoid spinning, and don’t try to ‘dress up’ an ugly situation. Acknowledge setbacks and failures, including civilian casualties, and then state how we’ll respond and what we’ve learned.”
Maybe it’s too presumptive to think Petraeus had the Wikileaks document dump on his mind when he wrote this, considering that one of the more newsworthy themes to come out of it was how much the military was glossing over, even covering up civilian casualties. Pundits may claim that the material found in the 92,000 released pages was largely “old news,” but it’s clear that most Americans who don’t invest heavily in doing their own research on the war are probably unaware how bad it really is, especially if they are merely following the mainstream press reports. That Papa Petraeus is demanding ample disclosure of events, warts and all, is a step forward. That is, if this is not all a PR stunt in itself!
Read the full counterinsurgency guidance here (.pdf)
The general also asks his soldiers to “be a good guest. Treat the Afghan people and their property with respect.” Again, it sounds like a no-brainer — in fact, eight years in, he shouldn’t have to be saying it at all. However, one wonders how that all squares with what was reported in The Washington Post this morning, how Kandahar is becoming a walled city, with the military hoping to replicate the Surge in Iraq (which we know now was more about us and saving face for George Bush than achieving long-term peace for the people there):
Tall concrete blast walls, like those that surround the Green Zone, are seemingly everywhere. Checkpoints supervised by U.S. soldiers have been erected on all major roads leading into the city. Residents are being urged to apply for new identification cards that require them to have their retinas scanned and their fingerprints recorded.
As U.S. and NATO commanders mount a major effort to counter the Taliban’s influence in Kandahar, they are turning to population-control tactics employed in the Iraqi capital during the 2007 troop surge to separate warring Sunnis and Shiites. They are betting that such measures can help separate insurgents here from the rest of the population, an essential first step in the U.S.-led campaign to improve security in and around Afghanistan’s second-largest city.
“If you don’t have control of the population, you can’t secure the population,” said Brig. Gen. Frederick Hodges, director of operations for the NATO regional command in southern Afghanistan.
Now those are words to live by. It seems like our soldiers are forever stuck between the gentle reminders and encouragements of pop-centric warfare and their mission to kill, capture, conquer and control. It’s hardly their fault when they don’t get it right. The mission itself is all mixed up. Most people are expecting Petraeus to come down with new rules of engagement, to clarify some of these conflicts and contradictions and to put vague “guidance” into tactical direction on the battlefield. It’s supposed to come “very soon” says Stars and Stripes. One wonders what purpose these superficial bullet points really serve in the interim.