Monday, February 15, 2010

PR Offensive

I think the most surprising part of the big offensive in Helmand is how much attention it is getting back in the U.S. and Canada.  Each day, the papers are filled with stories about offensive, and the messaging getting out has mostly been exactly what NATO would have wanted
  • this is a big effort;
  • it is more focused on governance than before so the ultimate success hinges on the Afghans;
  • ISAF is staying put rather than fighting and then leaving;
  • the Afghan National Army [ANA] is a big part of the effort;
  • much effort to minimize casualties, including announcing this effort ahead of time, deliberately removing any chance for strategic surprise.
So, of course, I wonder what has happened to the NATO I have come to know and love--one that could not communicate basic math to an AP calculus class (no offense to my pals in NATO public diplomacy).  Clearly, this effort in Helmand has at least four targets:
  • the Taliban types in the area;
  • the Afghan population--to show them that ISAF gets it and is operating differently than in the past
  • the Afghan government--that they better do well here, because they will have fewer excuses
  • the publics in the US and other troop contributing nations--to show them that ISAF can be successful as much of the new conventional wisdom on casualty aversion (thanks to Peter Feaver) focuses less on body bags coming home and more on the perception of success.  That is, people will be less opposed to a military mission if it is seen as successful.
Whether it is a matter of McChrystal enforcing his will or the US military finally buying into the Petraeus playbook or NATO finally getting it, the effort thus far has been pretty impressive in terms of its coherence--and that is a pretty significant change from the past.  Still, it is too soon to tell.

PS  I was thrilled to see that the Canadian OMLT [ELMO?] is in the effort, sticking with the Afghan battalion it is mentoring.  Why?  Because my presentation at the ISA in a couple of days will still be accurate!

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