24 September 2010

Is The War A Success? How Can You Tell?

The Telegraph asks a very good question of its UK readers: If we were winning, how would you know?

They start with an accounting of the successes of the campaign...

Over a 90-day period this summer, 365 key Taliban commanders were either killed or captured in a total of 3,000 night raids carried out by British and American special forces units, operating predominantly in southern Afghanistan. Another 1,031 "rank and file" fighters were killed, and 1,355 taken into custody.
Not surprisingly, this unprecedented level of special forces activity is having a devastating impact on the Taliban's effectiveness and morale. British commanders have reported a significant drop in their casualty rates, while the number of roadside bombs has fallen by a quarter.
Equally important, the high attrition rate has led many potential Taliban recruits to have second thoughts about risking their lives for the cause. "When the average life expectancy of a commander is around six months, it certainly concentrates the minds of those who are thinking about joining the insurgency," says a senior British officer working with SAS units in Afghanistan. "Suddenly there is an awareness that there is a price to be paid for planting roadside bombs. Families are less keen to let their sons volunteer."

And then try to answer their own questions about the perceptions of the fight...

So why is it that all people want to discuss is our losses in Sangin, rather than our successes? Part of the answer lies in the strange reluctance of senior British officers to provide details of the scale of the carnage that is daily being inflicted on the Taliban. Normally, governments are only too eager to proclaim the military's successes in times of war, not least because of their propaganda value. Churchill sustained morale during the darkest hours of the Second World War with constant updates on enemy losses, while Thatcher was unequivocal in her praise of British victories in the Falklands.
Those responsible for prosecuting the war in Afghanistan, by contrast, fall silent when asked to provide details of enemy losses. The explanation, or so I was told by one Cabinet minister, is a concern that publishing details of Taliban deaths would play into the hands of anti-war campaigners, who would exploit the information for their own propaganda purposes. Politicians are also mindful of the impact the true level of Taliban casualties might have on British Muslims. There are already significant numbers who actively support the Taliban and its allies, and ministers have convinced themselves that the total would only grow if the movement's true plight were more widely known.
This policy of restraint, however, is self-defeating, because public support is crucial to the ultimate success of any military campaign. British backing for the effort in Afghanistan will continue to wane until we focus on our successes, rather than obsess about our failures.

By: Brant

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