Why Drone Strikes Cede 'Hearts and Minds' to Taliban (Page 3 of 3)

The fact is that the word “precision” applies to little or nothing about this event. Instead, it’s yet another marker on a confused and misguided counterinsurgency strategy that, while scheduled to end in 2014 – with 200 U.S. bases already shut down – is achieving few of its declared aims. It’s a sad but sobering thought that the disputed death of 50 Afghans in Kunar on August 18 merited precious little news coverage and, so far, no real inquiry by either the government of Afghanistan or by most independent observers. At the same time, the cumulative deaths of 40 NATO service members so far in 2012  at the hands of Afghan army and police – only a small portion of which have been tied to the Taliban-led insurgency – have attracted widespread attention, investigations, commentary, and concern at the highest levels of the U.S. command. On August 23, just five days after the slaughter in Kunar, General John R. Allen, the U.S. commander in Afghanistan, presided over a lengthy news conference during which he fielded numerous questions about the so-called green-on-blue attacks, but not a single question on Kunar.

Yet the events in Kunar may hold great significance for the ultimate success of the NATO mission in Afghanistan. That’s because events like the one in Kunar are what generate outrage and desperation among Afghan villagers, often pushing them closer to the Taliban or making them susceptible to Taliban propaganda about jihad against the foreign forces.

That’s why the latest pronouncement about the course of the war by Stephen Biddle of the Council on Foreign Relations ought to be ringing alarm bells. Biddle, who maintains close contact with U.S. military commanders, has long been relatively optimistic that a political accord with the Taliban might allow for a settlement of the conflict before 2014. Now, he says, “I’m significantly less optimistic than I have been.”

Biddle adds, “I am very concerned about the direction that the war has been taking because of some shortsighted decisions we’ve made that have undermined our long-term prospect for getting an acceptable result. When people ask the question, ‘How’s the war going?’ usually they are focusing on the short term and the battlefield. So the issue usually is: Are casualties up or down? Are we in control of more of the country this month than we were last month? Are civilian causalities up relative to a year ago at this time, or down relative to year ago at this time? Those are all perfectly worthwhile questions, but the more important set of questions has to do with how we get to an acceptable outcome. Our ability to drive the war to a successful conclusion on the battlefield is nil at this point.”

Perhaps a deal between the United States and the Taliban is still possible. But as the U.S. force in Afghanistan draws down, the United States is likely to rely increasingly on airstrikes like the one in Kunar to suppress the insurgency. And because airstrikes often lead to civilian casualties, more often than not they make things worse, not better, from a counterinsurgency point of view. That can only bolster the Taliban as America pulls out, and no doubt many within the Taliban leadership are arguing that it’s better to keep fighting rather than negotiate. Still, there are new reports that the Taliban is once again headed back to the bargaining table in Qatar, reinforcing Biddle – and the Obama administration’s – hope that a political settlement isn’t impossible.

November 17, 2012 at 08:06

I agree with this article, but how do you respond to the unspeakable evil of suicide bombing and the depraved beasts who organize it? Nothing knew about the concept though, 'The Old Man of the Mountain' in Crusader times even terrified Saladin. He used the same promises to his suicide murderers too, virgins etc and sent them out high on hashish, which of course is the origin of the word 'assassin' 'hashashin' And then someone does something 'wrong' in Denmark and hundreds of people who had nothing to do with it and probably didn't know even about it are murdered all over the world.

October 6, 2012 at 01:08

"Maybe you should go over there yourself and hike up into those mountains and nicely ask those people which ones are good and which are the bad guys so you can brilliantly conduct a ZERO collateral damage war….for the first time in world history!"
Been there, done that, and you can read about it here:
If the Taliban and al-Qaeda, as you say, have no right to live, then why not just nuke Afghanistan and be done with it?
We've opted not to take such a blunt strategy, and instead are trying to conduct a counterinsurgency campaign. In the context of counterinsurgency, is this drone strike helpful to our side? Don't answer too quickly. If some village has turned to the Taliban for help in adjudicating some internal dispute, then this is a failure on GIRoA's part for not offering a more attractive system of justice. Any number of things might make GIRoA less attractive; perhaps GIRoA can't reach the village, perhaps GIRoA judges are susceptible to bribes, perhaps GIRoA's law is incompatible with the village's values, whatever. People do, in fact, choose their governments, and these people chose the Taliban. Our side needs to do a better job of making GIRoA into an attractive alternative.
You can attract more flies with honey than with vinegar, so on the face of it, a drone strike would seem to be entirely counterproductive. You can't pummel people into wanting to cooperate with you. But in this case, we haven't been told the full story, and this is where I have a criticism of the article. We don't know the larger village context into which this drone strike fits. What if, for example, various actors from our side have already been in long talks with the village leadership? What if we'd already addressed concerns such as accessibility and corruption and community values? Has anyone from our side of the fight tried to sell the village leaders on the merits of GIRoA governance? I don't know whether anyone has or not.
It is possible– and we simply don't know– that the village leaders had already welcomed in GIRoA, negotiated away all their differences, accepted all kinds of help, and had openly disavowed any affiliation with the Taliban. And it is possible that by calling in the Taliban to adjudicate this local dispute, they had betrayed a trust and proved themselves to be deceptive enemies of GIRoA. What I am saying is, depending on the history of this village, that drone strike may have been the stick half of a carrot-and-stick approach that was appropriate to the moment. We don't know. We need a wider context.
We can win in Afghanistan, if we take the right approach. Don't let anyone tell you different.

Arthur Borges
September 12, 2012 at 19:50

Well, Lieutenant M., as Rudyard Kipling once put it:
"When you're wounded and left on Afghanistan's plains,
And the women come out to cut up what remains,
Jest roll to your rifle and blow out your brains
An' go to your Gawd like a soldier."

September 10, 2012 at 13:14

Counterinsurgency principles only apply to where you occupy territory. So drone strikes are fine.

September 8, 2012 at 21:33

What an obtuse article.  You'd be hardpressed to find someone who is more wary of the legality of drone strikes over another nation's sovereign territory.  Having said that – as already voiced by Matt – the drones are ruthlessly effective in disrupting and destroying the enemy's operational capabilities.  Moreover, the pre-strike vetting, the strike itself, and the post-strike reflections were conducted entirely in Afghanistan – total win.  The other consideration completed disregarded is the working capability of the National Directorate of Security and of Afghan National Police sources.  This country is not nearly as Balkanized as it was only nine years ago (my first time here), and reporting from neutral and/or war-weary Afghans is both accurate and typically reliable.  Consider further the nearly ELEVEN YEARS of war we've been fighting (let alone the sixteen the Taliban have been fighting); as much as an enemy adapts, certain habits die hard – one is the Taliban rolling in force packed into Toyota Hilux trucks 1999-style to project power an sow intimidation in areas where such power projection is permissible without (obvious) targeting.  Please seriously consider the impressive intelligence capabilities of the US military, the increasingly apt operational capability of the Afghan National Security Forces, and the continuous quest for freedom from tyranny of war- and oppression-weary Afghan civilians prior to your next article.
Lieutenant M
Airborne Infantry, US Army – eastern Afghanistan

September 7, 2012 at 23:43

Do you recall our civilians killed on 9/11? You are not very smart to think we would just roll over. You may be the type of guy that rolls over but thankfully our govt. is not. And trust me, when we leave the real killing of civilians will start. You wanna whine like a little kid about a few dozen civilians killed in a legitimate attempt to kill terrorists IN A WAR while you flagrantly ignore the thousands that will die when and if they ever take back control. The Taliban and Al Qaeda have no right to live. Just as a murderer forfeits his rights when they conducted 9/11  they forfeited their right to life. The US will be present and will be killing them long past 2014 I will predict. Drones save US lives! Maybe you should go over there yourself and hike up into those mountains and nicely ask those people which ones are good and which are the bad guys so you can brilliantly conduct a ZERO collateral damage war….for the first time in world history!
By the way the Taliban is NOT the population. There are many tribes and allegiances change routinely. The Taliban has a clear leadership and is run out of Pakistan AND they are tied at the hip with Al Qaeda. Documents taken from UBL's house clearly showed that Mullah Omar consulted directly and routinely with UBL and Zawaharry on the war strategy. Don't be so quick to believe enemy propaganda.

Needs no explanation
September 7, 2012 at 22:45

Did not read article. Do we actually need an article to explain "why drone strikes cede 'hearts and minds'? Isn't it pretty obvious?

September 7, 2012 at 18:27

@Matt: Killing civilians will not exactly win the "hearts and minds" of the locals. This murderous escapade shows just how useless the whole idea of trying to control Afghanistan is.  The Taliban, as locals, will inevitably be part of the peace settlement after Western forces leave.  Did you notice how in this report, it was they who were called on by the villagers to administer justice, not the afghan police?   Doesn't that tell you something?

September 7, 2012 at 11:57

New Flash!  Their Hearts and Minds belong to Allah.  

September 6, 2012 at 23:13

You obviously don't understand the nature of those tribes to believe drone strikes are the cause of anything. It is literally the only consequence they face to waging war on ISAF from their safe haven. This article just takes the enemy propaganda and prints it as fact. The ISI loves to pump up the importance of drones even as they pay millions to arm and train the terrorists. 
I've seen and read video of Taliban and Al Qaeda paranoid about drones. They don't even talk in their own houses for fear of their voice being ID'd by drones overhead. That buzzing sound never goes away either. They hate it. I didn't really like them at first but it is comforting to know those bastards live in constant fear because of them. God Bless the men and women who give our enemy hell. Oh, and in WAR sometimes the innocents get killed. Best not start a war if you don't want war. These tribes, if you bother to ask them, are waging war. They know full well the consequences. Part of war is also lying to the enemy to get them to stop fighting. Don't be so naive Robert.

September 6, 2012 at 17:26

Did not read the article.  Get back to me on this when the Taliban isn't beheading Afghan civilians for kicks.

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