I put this on as an update to yesterday’s COIN post, but then expanded it for the Washington Independent, as it’s only fair, given the debate we had yesterday. USA Today reports on a disturbing statistical rise in ISAF-caused civilian casualties during the first three months of 2010 versus the first three months of 2009.
At the risk of repeating the whole post, operational-tempo increases can help explain the rise in casualties, but doesn’t remove the very negative strategic implication from them. Gen. McChrystal understood that back in June at his confirmation hearing, when he said that “the perception caused by civilian casualties is one of the most dangerous enemies we face,” since the loss of popular support “will be strategically decisive,” and nothing will more determine that loss than the perception of ISAF as an indifferent our marauding force. So now the question centers around what measures McChrystal will take to reverse this emerging and strategically deleterious trend, because results are what matter.
Now McChrystal intends to push into Kandahar, a more densely populated area than the Helmand areas where he has placed most of his operational emphasis to date. Already President Hamid Karzai said he will oppose any Kandahar action without local support, and on a recent trip with McChrystal to a local shura, the elders shouted, “We are not happy” about the impending operation. McChrystal told the Pentagon press corps in March that “one of the things we’ll be doing [ahead of the Kandahar operation] in the shaping is working with political leaders to try to get an outcome that makes sense,” adding, “before we do a military operation in Afghanistan, we really have got to get the consent of the people who are going to be affected by that operation.” It might not have been outright veto power over the operation, but it certainly tethered the Kandahar operation to local support. And now Gareth Porter thinks McChrystal’s command is backing away from that because it’s getting an answer it doesn’t like.