A few days ago, it wasn’t clear. If it turned out that 70 (or more) civilians were killed in a recent airstrike in western Afghanistan, then it is an indicator that the U.S.-led NATO command in Afghanistan is pursuing a flawed strategy. Coalition forces lack sufficient force projection on the ground, and it looks like there’s an overreliance on air support. Afghanistan is 48% larger than Iraq and has 16% more people, yet the size of the NATO contingent is only around 60,000 and Afghan army isn’t anywhere near as combat-ready as their Iraqi counterparts. With a resurgent Taliban, we don’t have sufficient resources to mount an effective counterinsurgency campaign. It’s not just that more troops are needed, more troops are needed to secure the populace, hold territory, build political and physical infrastructure, and figure out some way to deal with the opium trade.
But if it turned out that Afgahn government sources were wrong, and that only five civilians and 25 militants were killed in the recent airstrike, then it is also an indicator that the U.S.-led NATO command in Afghanistan is pursuing a flawed strategy. Why do I say this? Because it means that our information operations are substandard, and we’re unable to override false narratives that are being put out. This is an ideological conflict every bit as much as a military conflict, and if we can’t prevail on the mediafront, then it’s not going to matter how and what we do on the battlefront.
The U.S. command is investigating the matter, but the incident is a lose-lose proposition for the NATO coalition and a poor example of how counterinsurgency warfare is being conducted.
However, it looks like unacceptable numbers of civilians were killed. The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) has investigated and, guess what, it’s a bad deal:
“Investigations by UNAMA (United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan) found convincing evidence, based on the testimony of eyewitnesses, and others, that some 90 civilians were killed, including 60 children, 15 women and 15 men,” U.N. Special Envoy to Afghanistan Kai Eide said in a statement.
The U.S. is currently running the NATO operation in Afghanistan, and we’re screwing it up. Badly. This has got to change.