Washington Babylon — May 7, 2009, 9:40 am

Hearts and Minds in Afghanistan

From page 8 of today’s Washington Post: “The top U.S. commander in Afghanistan said Wednesday he had dispatched a joint U.S.-Afghan team to investigate U.S. airstrikes that killed more than two dozen people in the western part of the country and prompted an outcry from Afghan officials.”

This from a former CIA official I spoke with recently about the fallout from these types of strikes:

You need to lower the U.S. footprint in the region; you can’t just have Americans dropping bombs on Afghanistan. We keep dropping bombs to kill one bad guy and 15 bystanders also get killed. Hearts and minds matter to an insurgency.

The military and the CIA don’t have the tools they need to fight the war, mostly they’re relying on bombs and Predator strikes. Those can be useful but the collateral damage is so bad. Outside of the moral issue, it doesn’t work. For every person you kill, multiply by 20 the number of new enemies you have.

If Osama bin Laden was in downtown Washington, and we killed him with a bomb but 25 civilians were killed, they would have the heads of the people responsible. So why is it any different in Afghanistan? People there see it the same way, but it’s worse because they believe we have pinpoint accuracy so the collateral damage can’t be a mistake.

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