US image problem grows as Afghanistan casualties mount
While insurgent-caused casualties are up, US-caused civilian casualties are down. Still, it only takes a couple of high profile incidents to negatively turn public opinion.
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Some observers question the ability of international forces to conduct an air war of this scale without creating an increasingly hostile population –
especially after a NATO air strike killed nine boys collecting firewood in Kunar a week ago. Thomas Ruttig, codirector of the Afghanistan Analysts Network says that the US military must be aware of this risk and speculates that their adherence to using air power may signal a shifting strategy.
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“For me, the only conclusion is that it has given up ‘winning hearts and minds.’ Since this aspect has been considered core of any successful COIN [counterinsurgency] strategy, it remains the US command’s secret how it wants to overcome the insurgency,” he says.
Meanwhile, the report indicates that insurgent forces are taking less care when it comes to winning over the population. Aside from the general increase in insurgent caused civilian deaths, there was a 105 percent increase in assassinations and an 83 percent increase in abductions during 2010.
A series of recent offensives against civilian targets, such as the Kabul Bank attack in Jalalabad and the supermarket bombing in Kabul may indicate that the insurgency is staring to focus on soft targets.
Comparing the Afghan insurgency to that of Iraq, Michael O’Hanlon, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution points out that when Al Qaeda in Iraq began to inflict violence against the local population they quickly lost support. The Taliban may face similar problems if they do not limit collateral damage.
With the fighting season just about to begin as warm weather returns to Afghanistan, it remains difficult to gauge the strength of the insurgency after last spring and summer’s military offensives. It is also difficult to tell how the community will responded to insurgents after facing increased violence from the Taliban and other groups.
“I am worried that they are very resilient but we will see as the violence statistics start to come in during the fighting season," says Mr. O’Hanlon. "If 2011 is comparably violent to 2010 (or even more violent), we have a problem, or at least some serious questions.”