Posts Tagged ‘Afghanistan’

Re-ordering the UK’s Campaign Primacy

4 August, 2008

In a weekend interview with The Daily Telegraph, which was also picked up by The Times, Brigadier Ed Butler – the former head of the SAS, and former commander of British forces in Afghanistan – claimed that not only were some British Muslims fighting alongside the Taliban in Afghanistan, but that militant Islamic groups in south-east Asia were also supporting terrorist plots in the UK.

“There are British passport holders who live in the UK who are being found in places like Kandahar… There is a link between Kandahar and urban conurbations in the UK. This is something the military understands, but the British public does not.”

Given this relationship between the foreign and domestic theatres, what are the implications for UK counterinsurgency strategy? In an article entitled Re-ordering the UK’s Campaign Primacy, IRG founder John Mackinlay argues that in the UK we are currently making a mistake in placing our expeditionary commitments over our domestic campaign, and that the current counterinsurgency discourse – as embodied in US Army / USMC FM 3-24 – is insufficiently nuanced to address the nature of the threat posed to Europe, and the UK in particular, by contemporary global insurgency:

Although doctrinally US and UK forces appear to have changed course, the core values of our security institutions remain the same, and at their most instinctive level they have not altered sufficiently to keep up with the changing world. In operational terms we are still facing backwards towards an era when counterinsurgency was a purely expeditionary activity, whereas in reality we need to be thinking more seriously about a 21st century adversary which does not require overseas territories, and which flourishes within our own population.

Representing an overwhelming US presence, US counterinsurgency doctrine is likely to become the concept for every future coalition. So it is this doctrine, and not a yet to be written NATO or national version, which will influence our future modus operandi.

FM3-24 has the appearance of novelty, it mentions the ‘global dimension’ and the possibility of ‘insurgent networks’, but in practical terms its prescriptions are only relevant to an expeditionary, territorial intervention focused on a particular state, with a clearly recognisable centre of gravity. The US doctrine is saying in effect that although the adversary which we seek to address is established globally and exerts itself in the virtual dimension, the military response will be a traditional unilateral expedition, whose capabilities will be tangible, territorial and limited to a space that is physical.

As a result of our failure to fully appreciate the inter-relationship of the domestic and expeditionary elements of our counterinsurgency campaign – or, at least, our failure to operationalise this understanding – it is argued that in the UK we are dangerously neglecting the former in pursuit of the latter.

In common with other European states the British government is engaged on two fronts, the overseas expeditions against the supposed sanctuaries in Afghanistan and Iraq, and a domestic campaign to stem disaffection and radicalisation in its own population. These campaigns are organisationally distinct. The overseas effort principally involves Defence, Foreign Affairs and Overseas Development, whereas the domestic plan of action principally involves the Home Affairs ministry. The problem is that in the UK the images and reverberations of the overseas campaign act against the domestic campaign. It is the continuous traffic of routine news and political debate concerning British troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, rather than old fashioned jihadi propaganda, which antagonises the vulnerable Muslim element of the British population, especially those who see their faith as the target of the war against terror.

Despite the obfuscations of its government, the British de facto give primacy to the expeditionary campaign. This prioritisation is not explicit, but by deed and declaration the government pursues its expeditionary campaigns in denial and disregard of mounting evidence that the UK’s foreign policy and military profile in the war against terror contributes to the increasing radicalisation of its own Muslim population.

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Read the full article here:
Re-ordering the UK’s Campaign Primacy

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Afghanistan Bibliography

29 July, 2008

Christian Bleuer, over at Ghosts of Alexander, has made available the third edition of his extensive Afghanistan bibliography, which provides an invaluable resource for anyone with a research interest in Afghanistan.

The 123-page bibliography is broken down into the following sections:

1. Ethnic Groups.
2. Conflict and Mobilization: War, Ethnicity, Jihad, Factions, “Warlords,” Etc
3. Islam, Political Islam, Sharia, Jihad, Sects.
4. The International Community, Reconstruction, Security, Economy, Government, and Development.
5. Opium Cultivation, Drug Use and Trafficking.
6. Environment, Agriculture, Health and Natural Resources.
7. Human Rights Violations.
8. Women, Gender and Family.
9. Civil-Military Relations, Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs), Counterinsurgency and Military Issues.
10. Refugees, Internal Displacement, Migration and Diaspora Issues.
11. Macro and Micro Economics.
12. Opinion Polls, Interviews, Study Groups and Surveys.
13. Periodicals and Academic Journals.

Check it out here.

Winning the War of Words in Afghanistan

26 July, 2008

The International Crisis Group has released a report entitled Taliban Propaganda: Winning the War of Words?. The report examines the way in which the Taliban exploits various forms of media to further its campaign, and focuses on what may be learned about the movement from studying its use of the media – both in terms of what the movement says in its communications, and what it does not say.

Executive Summary:

The Taliban has created a sophisticated communications apparatus that projects an increasingly confident movement. Using the full range of media, it is successfully tapping into strains of Afghan nationalism and exploiting policy failures by the Kabul government and its international backers. The result is weakening public support for nation-building, even though few actively support the Taliban. The Karzai government and its allies must make greater efforts, through word and deed, to address sources of alienation exploited in Taliban propaganda, particularly by ending arbitrary detentions and curtailing civilian casualties from aerial bombing.

Analysing the Taliban’s public statements has limits, since the insurgent group seeks to underscore successes – or imagined successes – and present itself as having the purest of aims, while disguising weaknesses and underplaying its brutality. However, the method still offers a window into what the movement considers effective in terms of recruitment and bolstering its legitimacy among both supporters and potential sympathisers.

The movement reveals itself in its communications as:

  • the product of the anti-Soviet jihad and the civil war that followed but not representative of indigenous strands of religious thought or traditional pre-conflict power structures;
  • a largely ethno-nationalist phenomenon, without popular grassroots appeal beyond its core of support in sections of the Pashtun community;
  • still reliant on sanctuaries in Pakistan, even though local support has grown;
  • linked with transnational extremist groups for mostly tactical rather than strategic reasons but divided over these links internally;
  • seeking to exploit local tribal disputes for recruitment and mainly appealing to the disgruntled and disenfranchised in specific locations, but lacking a wider tribal agenda; and
  • a difficult negotiating partner because it lacks a coherent agenda, includes allies with divergent agendas and has a leadership that refuses to talk before the withdrawal of foreign forces and without the imposition of Sharia (Islamic law).

Out of power and lacking control over territory, the Taliban has proved adept at projecting itself as stronger than it is in terms of numbers and resources. Despite the increasing sophistication of some of its propaganda, however, it still puts out contradictory messages that indicate internal rifts and the diffuse nature of the insurgency. These reveal a cross-border leadership and support apparatus striving to present a unified front and assert control even as various groups maintain their own communications networks. Maintaining relations with transnational jihadist networks, which have a more global agenda, is a potential problem for the Taliban, which has always been a largely nationalistic movement.

A website in the name of the former regime – the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan – is used as an international distribution centre for leadership statements and inflated tales of battlefield exploits. While fairly rudimentary, this is not a small effort; updates appear several times a day in five languages. Magazines put out by the movement or its supporters provide a further source of information on leadership structures and issues considered to be of importance. But for the largely rural and illiterate population, great efforts are also put into conveying preaching and battle reports via DVDs, audio cassettes, shabnamah (night letters – pamphlets or leaflets usually containing threats) and traditional nationalist songs and poems. The Taliban also increasingly uses mobile phones to spread its message.

The vast majority of the material is in Pashtu, and a shortage of language skills in the international community means much of this either passes unnoticed or is misunderstood. English-language statements are relatively crude, but the Taliban is able to put out its story rapidly. More effort is devoted to Arabic language output, aimed at soliciting the support of transnational networks and funders. The overriding strategic narrative is a quest for legitimacy and the projection of strength. Use of tactics such as suicide bombings – previously unknown in Afghanistan – and roadside bombs, as well as such audacious actions in 2008 as a prison break in Kandahar city, an attack on a military parade attended by President Hamid Karzai and an assault on a five-star hotel demonstrate that grabbing attention lies at the core of operations.

Within Afghanistan the Taliban is adept at exploiting local disenfranchisement and disillusionment. The Kabul administration needs to ensure it is seen as one worth fighting for, not least by ending the culture of impunity and demanding accountability of its members. The international community must provide the necessary support and pressure for improved performance, while also examining its own actions. Whatever the military benefits of arbitrary detentions, they are far outweighed by the alienation they cause. The effectiveness of aerial bombardment, even if strictly exercised within the bounds of international law, must be considered against the damage to popular support. Greater efforts are needed in Western capitals to explain to their own populations the necessity of staying for the long haul rather than yielding to the pressure of quick fixes that give only the appearance of action.

The Taliban is not going to be defeated militarily and is impervious to outside criticism. Rather, the legitimacy of its ideas and actions must be challenged more forcefully by the Afghan government and citizens. Its killings of civilians and targeting of community leaders need to be highlighted, including a public accounting for actions by the militants through open trials – something that has not yet happened. Strengthening the legitimacy of the Afghan government and ensuring that its actions – and those of its international backers – are similarly bound by the rule of law should be an important complement. Ultimately, winning popular support is not about telling local communities that they are better off today. It is about proving it.

Read the full report here.

Badal: A Culture of Revenge – The Impact of Collateral Damage on the Taliban Insurgency

8 July, 2008

The ever-useful Combined Arms Research Library (CARL) has published a report – written by Raja G. Hussain of the US Naval Postgraduate School – that examines the role played by collateral damage in exacerbating the Afghan insurgency.

Abstract:

This thesis examines the impact of collateral damage on the Taliban insurgency. It reveals the relationship between death of innocent civilians and the tribal concept of badal (revenge). Research also analyzes Taliban propaganda leaflets to illustrate the compromise of popular support caused by collateral damage stemming from the Coalition’s tactics.

Research probes into the historical Anglo-Afghan wars and the 1979 Soviet invasion to draw parallels to the current insurgency. In doing so, it highlights the rising role of religion and FATA, Pakistan. FATA is analyzed to show the effects of intrusions by outside actors as well as historical and recent events that have shaped the populace and structure of these tribal regions.

Lastly, the research concludes by offering non-kinetic solutions to curbing the Taliban insurgency. The solutions focus on FATA and offer socio-economic and political remedies to hinder with the Taliban recruitment efforts and cross-border incursions. Thesis recognizes FATA and reduction in collateral damage as pivotal factors to fostering stability in the region.

Access the report here.

Afghan Power Structures & Social Modelling

7 July, 2008

Christian Bleuer has an interesting post over at CTLab which assesses a recent paper by Geller and Moss on the subject of Afghan power structures. The paper focuses on the role played by qawm – a form of identity grouping key to understanding social dynamics in Afghanistan – in creating a human terrain susceptible to the kind of episodic low-level conflict which has long been a feature in Afghanistan.

Check the full post here.

Doctrine of Eternal Recurrence – The Discrepancy Between COIN Doctrine and Ground Operations

5 July, 2008

RAND have released the latest in a series of occasional papers addressing counterinsurgency theory and practice. Entitled Doctrine of Eternal Recurrence — The U.S. Military and Counterinsurgency Doctrine, 1960-1970 and 2003-2006, and written by Austin Long, the paper challenges the notion that the development of improved COIN doctrine necessarily translates into an equivalent improvement in the conduct of COIN operations on the ground.

Long compares the conduct of contemporary COIN operations by US forces in Afghanistan and Iraq following the release of FM 3-24 with the conduct of COIN operations in Vietnam, and argues that in both cases organisational inertia has inhibited the force adaptation required to actually implement new doctrine on the ground.

Abstract:

The publication of a new counterinsurgency (COIN) doctrine manual in late 2006 was widely heralded as an indication that the U.S. military was finally coming to understand the problems it has recently faced in Iraq and Afghanistan. However, this interpretation assumes a tight linkage between doctrine as written and operations as actually conducted. By comparing modern counterinsurgency doctrine and operations to those of 1960s, this paper tests and ultimately disproves this proposition.

An examination of COIN doctrine and operations in the 1960s reveals that operations seldom matched written doctrine. Instead of winning hearts and minds, improving civil-military relations, conducting small-unit operations, and gathering intelligence, most Vietnam War commanders and units attempted to defeat the insurgency through large-scale operations and overwhelming firepower.

Modern U.S. COIN operations in Afghanistan and Iraq demonstrate a similar preference for high-intensity warfare and a similar inability to adapt technologically and mentally to the requirements of COIN.

To help explain the discrepancy between written doctrine and actual operations, this paper posits that ingrained organizational concepts and beliefs have a much greater influence on operations than written doctrine. While embedded beliefs can help organizations as they conduct their preferred missions, they can be detrimental in other contexts.

Mental and material preparation for high-intensity warfare has made the U.S. military poorly suited to COIN. Altering these beliefs will require more than just new doctrine and some additional professional education: The services must reorient themselves mentally as well as physically.

Read the paper here.

Bureaucratic facade and political realities of disarmament and demobilisation in Afghanistan

22 May, 2008

Antonio Giustozzi, author of Koran, Kalashnikov and Laptop: The Neo-Taliban Insurgency in Afghanistan, has a paper on DDR in Afghanistan published in the Conflict, Security & Development journal.

Abstract:

Internationally sponsored disarmament and demobilisation in Afghanistan was characterised by a marked divergence between the bureaucratic process designed by the UN and the political reality of disarmament. The bureaucratic process had several flaws of its own, which were particularly obvious in the case of DIAG, but the main reason for the substantial failure of disarmament was the absence of political will among key Afghan partners. International players in the process choose to compromise on rather unfavourable terms, saving the facade of demobilisation thanks to the formal disbandment of the militias incorporated under the Ministry of Defence, but in fact allowing thousands of militias to continue operating throughout the country.

The article shows how the very limited impact of DDR and even more so DIAG was already obvious in the early stages of the process and was deliberately ignored. The article concludes that the compromise could at least have achieved some limited aims, such as delegitimising the militias, had not many of their leaders been allowed to compete successfully for parliamentary seats shortly afterwards.

Access the paper here:

Bureaucratic facade and political realities of disarmament and demobilisation in Afghanistan
Update: Free version no longer available.

German Special Forces in Afghanistan – Not Licensed to Kill

20 May, 2008

Much has been made by various commentators in recent months about the negative impact national caveats are having on Nato/ISAF operational capabilities in Afghanistan. As well as affecting operational effectiveness, such caveats – which place self-imposed restrictions on the way in which individual national forces may be deployed – are having a corrosive effect on relations between contributing Nato countries, and on overall ISAF morale.

Although forces from all 26 Nato member states are deployed in Afghanistan, only Britain, America, Canada, Denmark and Holland have not used caveats to limit the rules of engagement of their troops. While the French, Italians and Spanish have all come in for criticism in the past, particular ire has been directed at the German contingent, whose forces may only be deployed in a non-combat role in the relatively peaceful north.

Such criticism is only likely to intensify following the revelation yesterday by Der Spiegel that an important Taliban commander – said to be responsible for the November 2007 Baghlan bombing which killed 79 people, including dozens of children – was allowed to escape by German KSK special forces as they were not authorised to use lethal force.

The case has caused disquiet at the headquarters of the ISAF peacekeeping force in Kabul. The current strategy for fighting the enemy is to buy as many Taliban sympathizers as possible, to at least win them over for a while — and to “eliminate” the hardliners through targeted assassinations.

From a military point of view, the so-called targeting has been a success. Close to one-third of the Taliban leaders, about 150 commanders, have since been “neutralized,” meaning they are either dead or captured. Most of the capture-or-kill missions, as the operations are called in military jargon, are undertaken by British or American special forces.

But so far the Germans haven’t wanted to take part. And that causes problems, because the insurgents are increasingly gaining influence in the nine provinces under German command.

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Nonetheless, even in a time of growing threats in Afghanistan, Berlin is sticking to its “principle of proportionality,” stressed one high-ranking official in the Defense Ministry. A fugitive like the Baghlan bomber is not an aggressor and should not be shot unless necessary, the official explains.

Soldiers from Britain’s British Special Air Service or the US’s Delta Force are less bothered about such hair-splitting. For them, this is a war in which it comes down to “kill or be killed,” say sources in military circles in Kabul. The “targets” are identified, tracked down and — often with the help of laser-guided weapons systems — “eliminated.”

The Germans have considerable misgivings about such an approach. They have secretly given “clarification notes” to NATO with far-ranging instructions for their soldiers which expressly contradict the usual procedures: “The use of lethal force is prohibited unless an attack is taking place or is imminent.” Sources in NATO circles regard the confidential document as a “national exception,” a caveat which places restrictions on operational capability. The Germans, for their part, always avoid using the word caveat, out of diplomatic considerations vis-à-vis their allies.

The most remarkable thing about the secret document is its stated justification. The German government considers its allies’ approach as “not being in conformity with international law.” Little wonder that NATO’s mission in Afghanistan is marked by tension and friction.

While the principle of proportionality is an important one in counterinsurgency, the German position epitomised by this incident is clearly pushing the principle to the point of absurdity. However, irrespective of how ridiculous this individual incident is, it is the underlying issue of national caveats that is ultimately at fault, and here the Germans are by no means solely to blame.

Speaking in March, ISAF commander Gen Dan McNeill said that he “would like the caveats to be eliminated”, claiming they were “frustrating in how they impinge upon my ability to properly plan, resource and prosecute effective military operations”. Unfortunately, there does not currently seem any realistic prospect that such wishes are likely to be fulfilled.

Read the full Der Spiegel article here.

[Der Spiegel]
Der Spiegel

Documents of Note #4

18 May, 2008

The following is the latest in a periodic round-up of reports, papers, monographs, etc likely to be of interest to IRG members and the wider COIN/CT community.

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The International Crisis Group has released the following new reports:

The Philippines: Counter-insurgency vs. Counter-terrorism in Mindanao

Lebanon: Hizbollah’s Weapons Turn Inward

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The Combined Arms Research Library has made the following documents available. Original date of publication is provided if the document is not new.

Violent Islamist Extremism, The Internet, and the Homegrown Terrorist Threat – US Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs

Hamas: How Has a Terrorist Organization Become a Political Power? – Ben-Zion Mehr

Global Jihad: The Role of Europe’s Radical Muslims – James Palumbo and Daniel Vaniman, 2007

Losing the Population: The Impact of Coalition Policy and Tactics on the Population and the Iraqi – Timothy Haugh, 2005

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The SWJ Magazine has published interim versions of the following papers:

Third World Experience in Counterinsurgency – Russ Stayanoff

Force Structure for Small Wars – Andrew C. Pavord

Guerrilla Warfare and the Indonesian Strategic Psyche – Emmet McElhatton

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Eldis has made the following reports available:

Demilitarising militias in the Kivus (eastern Democratic Republic of Congo) – Institute for Security Studies (ISS)

Humanitarian action in Iraq: putting the pieces together – Overseas Development Institute (ODI)

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RAND has published the following research papers:

Breaking the Failed-State Cycle

Afghanistan: State and Society, Great Power Politics, and the Way Ahead

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More:
Documents of Note #3 [03 MAY 2008]
Documents of Note #2 [17 APR 2008]
Documents of Note #1 [14 APR 2008]

Insurgency, the Media and the Propaganda of the Deed

8 May, 2008

IRG member Neville Bolt, who is completing a PhD on the Propaganda of the Deed in the War Studies department at King’s, has added the following to the debate regarding the role played by the media in facilitating insurgent exploitation of the POTD strategy, and the difficult question of how best to respond.

NB: To read John Mackinlay’s original post, criticising the role played by the media in accentuating the propaganda effect of insurgent operations such as the recent Taliban attack on Karzai and the Parade in Kabul, click here. To read the perspective of BBC editor Nick Walton, who edited the World Service’s coverage of the Taliban attack for the Newshour programme, click here.

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Lest we forget Alastair Campbell’s TV studio-offensive that led to the culling of BBC bosses over Iraq, I would make a plea on behalf of the media which walks a permanent tightrope between critical independence and government pressure. John Mackinlay’s article highlights the dilemma for all journalists and news organisations covering Afghanistan and other conflict spots. True, many reports could apply the kind of techniques John mentions, namely the BBC’s intros to Zimbabwe stories reminding viewers of the Corporation’s prohibition from working inside the country, or its exercising a sensitivity to safeguarding the interests of minors or rape victims. Perhaps that could be a useful contextual device to begin to explain what is happening in Afghanistan. But in the end I’m not sure what the public makes of riders saying the BBC is banned from Zimbabwe. In fact it all too often appears that the organisation is cynically attempting to promote the derring-do of its intrepid staff when they do go in. I suspect these riders wear a bit thin or actually go unnoticed by most viewers after a while. To add a studio interview on the back of each report is not realistic for reasons of time. Anyway I sense this might eventually bore the audience (remember news is both information and entertainment) or come across as some kind of propaganda, whose strings are being pulled by unseen hands.

I fully endorse John’s analysis that propaganda occupies the central role in Taliban military strategy, and more generally that postmodern insurgency asserts the primacy of POTD. However, we should not always presume journalistic myopia or misunderstanding, or indeed that every reporter or analyst should share our view. I haven’t spoken to Peter Taylor specifically about the absence of the POTD angle from his BBC2 ‘Age of Terror’ series. However he has offered to come in and address the Insurgency Research Group later this year. We should explore this line with him then.

Equally we need to remind ourselves that the media, even the British media, does not act homogeneously, that television, radio, press, and net do report according to different worldviews, and indeed from divergent political and corporate agendas. Within each of these strands of journalism, and in the larger press or broadcasting groups, there remains a reasonable diversity of opinion. And that’s healthy. Journalists may appear ‘feral’, they may hunt in packs, but that doesn’t mean the wolves see eye to eye. Although BBC News did not carry the Kabul story as POTD, the Economist (3/5/08), by contrast did. Their correspondent describes it as a Taliban ‘propaganda victory’, noting that such ‘spectaculars’ without requiring much logistical input, mould public opinion.

The Western counter-narrative has to live with a permanent dilemma. The Taliban and other insurgents will continue to piggy-back on Western (and non-Western) media outlets. Indeed they will do their best to control them, shaping campaigns within a strategy of ‘political marketing’, completely cognisant of the demands of what makes a ‘good story’. Why are we so surprised? After all, our own political parties and lobby groups do that to each other every hour of every day. However censoring footage from a Taliban ‘spectacular’, crosses the line in the sand. Moreover persuading news editors to remove the violent spectacle from a news compilation (one ingredient of a ‘good story’), and merely replacing it with talking heads recounting what they witnessed, offers a new take on the myth of Sysyphus. Media outlets already exercise discretion, periodically self-censorship. But even if these images were to be self-censored and removed from our screens, we know they will get out somehow from bystanders, non-Western news networks, NATO troops or Taliban propagandists. Consequently the damage to journalistic credibility, built on fair and truthful reporting, with Western domestic and foreign audiences and readerships, risks being even more far-reaching. It’s a dilemma.

What strikes and unsettles many non-Brits about UK media reporting of Zimbabwe, for example, is its unrelenting, hostile coverage of the Mugabe regime – albeit this reporting appears valid and justified to most who have visited that country. But interestingly this is not mirrored by most international broadcast networks. It just so happens that the British media’s approach to Zimbabwe coincides with UK Government policy towards Mugabe. Through their owners’ corporate agendas, public funding rounds or state licensing regulations, our media organisations already stand too close for comfort to government. I suspect John is not suggesting independent media now begin to promote government policies. That would be a dangerous road to go down. What I believe John is really looking for is not a rider, disclaimer or scene-setter on each report, but a fundamental process of re-education, a new way of interpreting and communicating events, so that all outrages and attacks are presented through this permanent prism of POTD. So it is in the conception of the story. That means the reporter at source should interpret events through a lens other than one of political economy, or military gains and setbacks. So perhaps what is needed is for groups like IRG to engage more with the journalistic community, and edge towards this elusive prism through a continuous process of argument and persuasion. The real work needs to be done off-air, not just on.

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Read More:

John Mackinlay:
The Taliban’s Propaganda of the Deed Strategy

Nick Walton:
The Propaganda of the Deed: A Perspective from the Media

MountainRunner:
Afghanistan: Americans have the wristwatches, but who has the time?

[My] State Failure:
About an indirect approach to information operations

Registan:
Did the Taliban Master 19th Century Anarchist Theories While We Slept?