The Rules of Engagement v Hearts and Minds


This week, General Stanley McChrystal apologized to the Afghan people and personally to President Karzai after at least 27 civilians were killed by a NATO airstrike in the southern Province of Uruzgan.   To his credit, General McChrystal has taken concrete steps to limit civilian casualties in Afghanistan.  Since becoming commander of US and NATO forces, he has tightened the rules of engagement to restrict the use of artillery attacks and airstrikes.   These measures were definitely needed.  But I would like to see General McChrystal go even further.

A Pivotal Week for Afghanistan?

The past week has witnessed two actions billed as possible turning points for the war in Afghanistan:  the launch of Operation Moshtarak in Helmund and the capture of Mullah Baradar, the top military commander of Mullah Omar’s Taliban.   Could either event be a potential game changer?

The capture of Mullah Baradar is significant, especially if it leads to the arrest of Mullah Omar and/or more of his top tier commanders.  But I doubt whether taking Mullah Baradar out of action will make a drastic difference at ground level in Afghanistan.  After all, Mullah Omar’s Taliban is just one insurgent group fighting the coalition.  Mullah Baradar’s arrest is unlikely to curtail the operations of the Haqqani network (which many consider the most capable militant group in Afghanistan at present) or Gulbuddin Hekmatyar’s Hizb-i-Islami. Continue reading

A Dangerous Decade for Journalists

The latest World Press Freedom Review from the International Press Institute contained some sobering figures: 735 journalists died between 2000 and 2009 in conflicts– 110 last year alone.  Not surprisingly, the country which proved most hazardous last decade was Iraq where 170 journalists lost their lives.

Journalists working in their own countries were most at risk.  But the IPI did hone in on a disturbing trend; namely ‘the deliberate targeting’ of journalists in conflict areas such as Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, and Pakistan. Having advised journalists in hostile environments since 2002, I have gained the utmost respect for them. To venture into war zones unarmed and unable to defend against attack takes incredible courage and commitment.  Yet too often journalists fail to fully appreciate the hazards they face in conflict areas.  I believe more can be done to improve their security.   Continue reading

The Stakes Rise in Pakistan

The days of denying the presence of US military personnel in Pakistan came to an end after three US soldiers were killed in a bomb blast near a girls’ school in North West Frontier Province this week.   The admission that US troops are in Pakistan training the country’s paramilitary Frontier Corps could not have come at a more delicate time. Not only could it further weaken Pakistan’s embattled central government; it could up the stakes considerably in the Great Game for supremacy in Central Asia. Continue reading