As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Dropping Bombs And Killing People - Amazingly, Unpopular

Andrew Exum, aka Abu Muqawama, is the coolest kid on the counter-insurgency block, so considering that the "good war" in Afghanistan and Pakistan is being revamped in the image of COIN, you'd think he'd appreciate the Obama Administration policy. But he manages to see the spectacle of mass killing from 30,000 feet as cutting against the policy of winning the hearts and minds of the locals. So he and David Kilcillen, another COINer, take to the op-ed pages of the NYT to criticize it.

First, the drone war has created a siege mentality among Pakistani civilians. This is similar to what happened in Somalia in 2005 and 2006, when similar strikes were employed against the forces of the Union of Islamic Courts. While the strikes did kill individual militants who were the targets, public anger over the American show of force solidified the power of extremists. The Islamists’ popularity rose and the group became more extreme, leading eventually to a messy Ethiopian military intervention, the rise of a new regional insurgency and an increase in offshore piracy [...]

Second, public outrage at the strikes is hardly limited to the region in which they take place — areas of northwestern Pakistan where ethnic Pashtuns predominate. Rather, the strikes are now exciting visceral opposition across a broad spectrum of Pakistani opinion in Punjab and Sindh, the nation’s two most populous provinces. Covered extensively by the news media, drone attacks are popularly believed to have caused even more civilian casualties than is actually the case. The persistence of these attacks on Pakistani territory offends people’s deepest sensibilities, alienates them from their government, and contributes to Pakistan’s instability.

Third, the use of drones displays every characteristic of a tactic — or, more accurately, a piece of technology — substituting for a strategy. These attacks are now being carried out without a concerted information campaign directed at the Pakistani public or a real effort to understand the tribal dynamics of the local population, efforts that might make such attacks more effective.

I've heard neocons like Fareed Zakaria (yes, he is one) claim that the Pakistanis like the drone attacks now, because they view the Taliban as a threat. But when you kill 14 terrorists and 700 civilians, a 2% hit rate, mass public opinion means little compared to reducing the threat. Hundreds of families experienced that loss, and hundreds of willing relatives will step up to replace those 14 dead. Meanwhile, we focus on these airstrikes at the expense of a larger strategy to win over the population. Insurgent commanders are simply easily replaced, so we would be better served by siphoning off recruitment.

I'm not even a COIN fan, and I think criticisms of the over-reliance on it in the military are well-founded. But you don't have to be a military expert to realize that killing civilians doesn't endear the population to your cause, nor does it make it any easier for an already-weak central government to maneuver.

Meanwhile, we're adding military trainers to Pakistan. This is how recent wars have begun - the trainers come in, and the mission expands. At some point, the war takes care of itself, no matter what the policymakers believe.

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